Germany has reached a new record level of coronavirus deaths as it enters a harder lockdown, closing shops and schools.
The country recorded 179.8 deaths of new infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, a new high and significantly more than the 149 per 100,000 reported a week ago by the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control centre.
It also blew past its previous daily total, with Germany’s 16 states reporting 952 people had died of the virus, the agency said.
That was far greater than the previous daily record set on Friday of 598 deaths, although included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony, which did not report on Tuesday. It brought the country’s overall pandemic death toll to 23,427.
“It’s as if the virus wanted to remind us how important what we’re now doing is,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said of the surge in deaths being reported on the day new restrictions come into force.
Faced with exponentially increasing cases in October, Germany implemented a “lockdown light” at the start of November, which closed bars and restaurants but left shops open. The measures succeeded in levelling off the numbers of new daily infections, but did not bring them down, prompting the new stricter restrictions.
In addition to closing shops and moving children to remote learning for the few days before the Christmas holidays, private gatherings are being limited to two households with a maximum of five people, among other things.
In Saxony, where the virus is spreading most rapidly, hospitals are filling up.
The state’s governor said more drastic restrictions might be necessary, calling it “pure poison” when too many people were still going out and about.
The measures are expected to be in place until at least January 10 and enjoy wide support, with the latest polls showing more than 80% of Germans approve of the lockdown restrictions or think they should be stricter.
Germany was widely praised for slowing the spread of its outbreak in the spring, but as people grew complacent with distancing and mask rules over the summer the numbers of cases started to climb again.
While daily new cases peaked at about 6,000 in March, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 new cases reported on Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute.
The number of new infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days hit a record high of 179.8, the agency reported.
German officials have pressed the European Union’s regulatory agency hard to speed up its approval of a coronavirus vaccine, and the European Medicines Agency has scheduled a meeting on that for Monday. With vaccinations expected to start before the year’s end, German officials have urged people to stay patient and respect the regulations over the holidays.
Mr Spahn said Germany is ready to start rolling out the vaccine and could begin vaccinations within two to four days of European approval.
“By summer we’ll be able to return to normal, step by step,” he said on RTL television on Wednesday.