BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany inched towards stricter measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus on Tuesday, as an eastern region said it would close schools and most businesses and the health minister warned a partial lockdown had not stopped the disease.
Europe’s biggest economy is struggling to squash new infections in a second wave of COVID-19 that is both proving far more difficult to tame than the first one and extracting a heavier human toll as daily deaths hit record highs.
The governor of the eastern state of Saxony, which has the highest seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 residents anywhere in Germany, said schools and non-essential businesses will be shut from Dec. 14 as hospitals struggle to take in patients.
“The situation in hospitals is not only tense, it is extremely dangerous at many locations, partly because a large number of beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients,” Saxony Governor Michael Kretschmer said during a news conference.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said existing measures such as closing gyms, restaurants, hotels and leisure venues, as well as limits on the number of people in shops and at private gatherings, were not enough to reverse the tide.
“A short and comprehensive approach to really make a difference is probably more successful,” Spahn told public broadcaster Phoenix, according to comments distributed late on Monday.
“If we don’t get there within the next one or two weeks until Christmas, we have to discuss it,” he added, referring to stricter measures that may well be similar to those approved in Saxony.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has told party colleagues that lockdown measures expected to be in place until Jan. 10 would not be sufficient to get the European Union’s most populous country through the winter, participants at the meeting said.
Broadcaster RBB cited Brandenburg state premier Dietmar Woidke as saying the federal government and states would discuss tighter measures this week to suppress the virus.
Political leaders believe the restrictions prevented further exponential growth of new infections, but numbers have plateaued. Germany reported 487 deaths on a single day last week, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Germany’s success at keeping both infections and deaths low during March and April had made many people complacent during the second wave, which explains why daily infections have spiked to more than 20,000 this months, health experts have said.
Saxony’s Economy Minister Martin Dulig blamed COVID-19 deniers and people who refused to wear masks for the high infection rate.
Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller said any further measures - such as extending school Christmas holidays by a week, offering digital lessons, or putting restrictions on retail business after Christmas - must be adopted by all states.
“I can well imagine that there will be restrictions,” he told broadcaster ARD. “There is no reason to buy a jumper on the 28th of December, you can do that before then ... But something like this should or must take place nationwide.”
Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Paul Carrel; Editing by Alex Richardson
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