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Record daily deaths as Germany enters COVID lockdown

December 16, 2020

The record death toll for a single day coincided with the country beginning new, tougher COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Reinforced measures are expected to run at least until January 10, affecting stores and schools.

A COVID-19 patient lies in a hospital bed in Aachen
With infections rising sharply, German hospitals in certain regions have been approaching capacityImage: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported a record 952 deaths in Germany on Wednesday, the country's highest daily death toll since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The previous record, set less than a week ago, was 598. 

Germany also recorded 27,728 new infections as the country entered a stricter lockdown which closed schools and most shops nationwide.

One reason for the surge in deaths could be down to delayed reporting of data from earlier in the week from Saxony — one of the worst-hit regions.

The total number of deaths from coronavirus-related problems has reached 23,427. The total number of infections reported by the Robert Koch Institute, the country's national agency for disease control, since the beginning of the pandemic stands at 1,379,238. Just over 1 million of those cases have since registered as having recovered from the virus.

The number of new infections per 100,000 people in the last seven days stood at 179.8 as an average across Germany, according to the RKI. In some parts of the country, the figure is much higher. The government is aiming to bring this number down to 50, the level at which it says it's still possible to reliably trace the contacts of those infected.

The current infection rate is reported to be stable or slightly falling among younger age groups, but it's still rising among older people who are more likely to suffer more serious health problems.

Which services may remain open during the lockdown?

  • Supermarkets / grocery stores / weekly markets
  • Gas stations / post offices / newspaper stands
  • Food pickup and delivery services
  • Shops selling drinks, health foods, baby-related goods, medical supplies and pet and animal supplies
  • Chemists / pharmacies / drug stores
  • Laundromats
  • Opticians and hearing care services
  • Christmas tree vendors

Bookstores may also remain partially open, depending on the state, for "click-and-collect" services.

German retailers in a bind

Is a vaccine on its way?

A ray of hope came on Tuesday when the EU vaccine regulator said that its approval of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine would be brought forward, following pressure from German Health Minister Jens Spahn. That could pave the way to the first vaccinations taking place as early as December 29.

Chancellor Angela Merkel briefed fellow lawmakers in the Bundestag on Monday, fielding questions related to an array of issues including lockdown and vaccines.

The chancellor also laid out the plan for Germany to start approving vaccines as soon as possible. But she was clear that mask-wearing legislation may not be removed any time soon.

"Until 60% or 70% of the population are immunized, we will not have herd immunity," she said. "And that could take a while. So we might have to wear masks for the foreseeable future."

EU's vaccine approval — slow but secure

DW spoke with German MEP and spokesman for the EPP parliamentary group Peter Liese on the reasons for the EU's slower approval of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.

Liese said that the EU vaccine regulator was employing a more secure procedure than other countries that have already given emergency authorization to the vaccine, something which he believes will make immunization plans safer and increase voluntary uptake.

"Europe will have the first regular approval of the vaccine, the United Kingdom and the US have done an emergency authorization, and that is less safe because of three reasons. First of all, we have more data, BioNTech delivered data even yesterday night. The second is that the producer holds liability under regular approval, like in the European Union. And more people are looking at the data on side effects and efficacy. So, I think it's only a few days longer, but it adds safety to the process and that's important."

Liese highlighted a potentially major problem that "we do not have enough vaccine. It's a problem even in the UK and the United States."

But the German MEP disagreed with the head of the World Medical Association, Frank Montgomery, that Germany's strict lockdown rules would have to continue past spring — reducing contacts may just be enough.

"We should look at Ireland as an example. Ireland managed to bring down the infections in October [despite having] much higher figures per capita than Germany and other European countries," Liese said.

Germany has fallen behind

Janosch Dahmen, a doctor and German parliamentarian with the Greens, told DW that while the country had weathered the first wave of the pandemic fairly well, it failed to prepare itself more in the summer. That has contributed to higher caseloads in recent weeks and put the healthcare system "under stress," he said.

"We were kind of a champion in the first wave in spring, but we [failed] in the summer to take … strict measures to protect vulnerable groups and to prepare for the winter season. And now we are behind and things are really serious, especially in care homes and places where elderly people live where the death rates are going up every day," he said.

As for how to deal with the crisis and start to return to normalcy, Dahmen said "the vaccine is our only chance" of doing so in a matter of months, not years.

Delays expected for Germany's economic recovery

The influential Munich-based Ifo institute lowered its estimated growth forecast for Germany in 2021 from 5.1% to 4.2% — but predicted that the economy's bounce-back would simply be delayed until 2022 where it raised expected GDP growth from 1.7% to 2.5%.

"Recent shutdowns in Germany and other countries are pushing the recovery back. Production of goods and services won't reach pre-crisis levels until the end of 2021," said Timo Wollmershaeuser, head of forecasts at Ifo, on Wednesday.

"The current year is likely to end with a further decline in gross domestic product as a result of the shutdown," he added in a statement.

The institute released its figures in a tweet, which also showed unemployment remaining at 5.9% in 2021, saying: "ifo Economic forecast winter 2020: The coronavirus strikes back — renewed shutdown slows economy for a second time."

ab/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)