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Like most European countries, Germany spent November lockdown on COVID-19, albeit a relatively mild version. And as in many German neighbors, the blockage will be relaxed over Christmas. But when will it actually end?
It wasn't until the spring that a senior official in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government predicted Thursday, suggesting that many companies will continue to be in trouble in the months ahead.
According to Merkel herself, the coronavirus restrictions should last at least until January. "In view of the high number of infections, we are assuming that the restrictions that apply before Christmas will apply until the beginning of January, certainly for most parts of Germany," she told the Bundestag on Thursday.
Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, told RTL Television that Germany's restrictions will likely have to last into March. Then spring will come and the government will – as it hopes – vaccinate large numbers of people.
"We have difficult winter months ahead of us," said Braun. "This will continue through March."
The number of cases in Germany, which rose exponentially in October when the second wave of the pandemic seriously broke out, has reached a plateau in the past few days, but is still regularly above 20,000 new infections per day. The COVID-19 death rate continues to rise sharply. 416 deaths were recorded on Wednesday.
Late on Wednesday, Merkel and the 16 German heads of state agreed to extend the current “Lockdown Lite”, which disproportionately affects the hospitality and leisure sector, until at least December 20th. This means that bars and restaurants will remain closed to seated guests until then.
From the beginning of December, the contact rules will be tightened, whereby only five adults from a maximum of two households are allowed to come together. Shops will remain open but need to tighten their social distancing measures. Your customers also need to wear masks while waiting outside and in parking lots.
However, larger gatherings of up to 10 people (excluding children under the age of 14) are allowed from December 23 to January 1, encouraging individuals to self-isolate before and after meeting friends and family.
Unless the situation suddenly improves dramatically, restaurants and bars will remain closed during the Christmas season and hotels will still be unable to offer rooms to tourists.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the hotel industry had demanded that.
The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) said ahead of the government meeting that a brief reopening of restaurants during the Christmas season would not be worthwhile for its members who would have to clean, decorate, store and occupy their facilities for a permanent window for less than a week .
Although retail stores stayed open during the lockdown, German GDP is expected to decline one point this quarter, and consumer sentiment has also been affected by the closings of restaurants, bars, hotels, cinemas and theaters.
Market research firm GsK said on Thursday that nearly half of those surveyed were either very concerned or slightly concerned about the economic impact of the coronavirus on their own future.
"How the infection rate develops in the coming weeks will be decisive for whether the consumer climate can stabilize again," said GfK consumer expert Rolf Bürkl in a statement. "Only a significant decrease in the number of infections and relaxation of restrictions will restore a more optimistic outlook."
Germany is signaling that the restrictions will continue well into the new year and is thus playing more cautiously than many other European countries. However, the Christmas plans are largely similar to those.
In the UK, the current lockdown will be replaced next Wednesday with a tiered system of restrictions based on infection rates in specific regions. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this system would remain in place through March.
During this festive season, from December 23rd to 27th, up to three British households can gather in a “Christmas bubble” and move around freely. However, people are being asked to increase their social distance two weeks later, and the previous three weeks will be marked by stricter measures in many places.
France, which will relax its heavy lockdown on Saturday to allow stores to reopen, for example, plans to lift most of the lockdown on December 15 so people can travel to meet their friends and family for Christmas. However, there is still a nightly curfew, restaurants must remain closed until January 20, and there is no scheduled reopening date for bars.
According to Spanish media reports, the government there intends to introduce a "rule of six" for Christmas and New Year's Eve, which allows up to six people to gather. However, people are advised to stick to their budget when the Christmas meals are directed outside. Travel between regions is again advised against.
Italy's heads of state and government are still debating what should be done there around Christmas. The current partial lockdown in the country ends on December 3rd.
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