Germany is to go into a hard lockdown over the Christmas period as the number of deaths and infections from the coronavirus reaches record levels.
Non-essential shops will close across the country from Wednesday, as will schools, with children to be cared for at home wherever possible.
Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Christmas shopping for a “considerable” rise in social contacts.
The latest figures showed 20,200 more infections and a further 321 deaths.
The new lockdown will run from 16 December to 10 January. Announcing the move after meeting leaders of the country’s 16 states, Mrs Merkel said there was “an urgent need to take action”.
Restaurants, bars and leisure centres have already been closed since November, and some areas of the country had imposed their own lockdowns.
Under the national lockdown, essential shops, such as those selling food, will stay open, as can banks. Outlets selling Christmas trees can also continue trading. Hair salons are among the businesses which must close.
Companies are being urged to allow employees to work from home.
Care homes will be authorised to carry out coronavirus tests. New Year events and the sale of fireworks will be banned. Drinking of alcohol in public places, such as popular mulled wine stalls, is also forbidden.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said affected businesses would receive up to 500,000 euros (£457,000, $605,000) in government support per month.
A maximum of five people from no more than two households are allowed to gather in a home. This will be relaxed from 24 to 26 December – one household can invite a maximum of four close family members from other households.
Bavaria is extending a night curfew from areas with high infection rates to the whole state – the second most populous in Germany.
Chancellor Merkel said it was the government’s job to “prevent an overload of our health systems and that’s why there is an urgent need to take action”.
The latest official figures on Sunday showed 20,200 more infections, bringing Germany’s total to date to more than 1.3 million. The death toll has risen by 321 to 21,787, the Robert Koch Institute says.
Germany had been seen as relatively successful in controlling the pandemic compared with European neighbours, thanks in part to testing and tracing. But there is a growing recognition among political leaders that what was dubbed “lockdown lite” has not achieved enough.
“If we’re not careful, Germany could quickly become Europe’s problem child,” Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder warned. “For that reason, we had to and we must act.” He did not rule out Germany extending lockdown beyond 10 January.
What are other European countries doing?
A vaccination campaign in Italy will aim to use flower-shaped gazebos set up in parks, sports fields and city squares to begin inoculating the public by mid-January, the country’s special commissioner for the Covid emergency, Domenico Arcuri, said on Sunday. The architect behind the gazebos’ design, Stefano Boeri, said the flower was the sign of the beginning of spring, “a symbol of serenity and rebirth”.
Italy is now the European nation with the highest coronavirus death toll, according to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It has recorded 64,036 confirmed Covid-related deaths, overtaking the UK, which has recorded 64,026.
People across the UK have been asked to think “really carefully” about the risk of more social contact over Christmas as restrictions are eased between 23 and 27 December. Three households will be permitted to form a “bubble” and mix indoors and stay overnight during the five-day period.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, which recorded nearly 10,000 new Covid infections over the latest 24-hour period, officials are urging Christmas shoppers to avoid city centres – such as Amsterdam and The Hague – at weekends. “Come alone, don’t linger too long, keep your distance and shop at quiet times,” authorities said in a statement.
The country has been in partial lockdown since 13 October. The Dutch government has been discussing additional measures to curb the spread of the virus.
In Switzerland, five hospitals have sent a letter to health minister Alain Berset expressing “great concern about the current situation” relating to Covid-19 patients, local media report. Hospitals in Geneva, Bern, Zurich, Basel, and Lausanne said intensive care units (ICU) were reaching full capacity and nurses were under extreme pressure.
No curfew or limit to alcohol sales will be imposed in Moscow during the New Year holiday, despite a rise in Covid infections in the Russian capital, the mayor is quoted by Interfax news agency as saying on Sunday.
From Monday, schools across the Stockholm region of Sweden have been asked to switch to distance learning for 13 to 15-year-olds for the first time. Students over the age of 16 returned to digital lessons nationwide on 7 December. Among other measures for the Christmas period, Swedes are also advised to meet a maximum of eight people, gather outdoors if possible and avoid travelling by train or bus.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55292614
Bosnia: Icy struggle for many migrants stuck in freezing tents
Thousands of refugees and migrants urgently need proper shelter in Bosnia-Herzegovina after weeks outdoors in freezing cold, the UN has warned.
Some 2,500 people are in unheated tents or sleeping rough near the northern town of Bihac. A UN official says some are now being moved to heated tents.
Local authorities have refused to reopen a nearby reception centre.
Instead hundreds have been forced to return to a temporary camp that was ravaged by fire last month.
Peter Van der Auweraert of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has tweeted photos of the basic tents erected at the Lipa camp by the Bosnian army a few days ago.
But his latest post is upbeat. Lipa is carpeted with heavy snow, he says, so the relocation of migrants to heated tents, now under way, is an “important step forward”. The new tents were brought in by the army.
The camp was set up hastily in the summer when the coronavirus pandemic forced crisis measures including border closures.
But aid agencies pulled out of the camp in December, saying it was unsustainable without water and electricity.
Some residents forced to leave the facility looted equipment and set fire to tents, police said.
However, about 900 migrants had to go back there, after local officials refused to let them move to the empty reception centre in Bihac. Another 1,500 are struggling in primitive conditions elsewhere near the town.
The migrants are from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and got stuck in Bosnia while trying to reach Croatia, an EU member state seen as a gateway to the EU.
Some of the migrants have refused to use the tents in Lipa because they lack heating and sanitation. Some also went on hunger strike, angry at the lack of amenities.
But on Tuesday many did receive Red Cross food parcels.
“We want people in proper reception centres where they have access to services, like the 6,000 other people in Bosnia,” Mr Van der Auweraert, the IOM’s head in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told the BBC’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey at Lipa.
The IOM says about 8,500 non-EU migrants are living in Bosnia, still hoping to get to northern Europe.
“Here is too much cold. You know, the weather is rainy and the weather is very cold, and we can’t sleep in here,” one migrant told our correspondent.
In recent years thousands of people, including refugees from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, have entered Bosnia hoping to get asylum in the EU.
Bosnia’s central government ordered the reopening of a reception centre in an old factory on the outskirts of Bihac, but the local authorities refused.
The city’s mayor, Suhret Fazlic, told the BBC: “We are not satisfied with approach of EU – people coming from Greece and Bulgaria want to get to Croatia, but stuck in Bihac.”
The EU has told the Bosnian authorities that they “must assume their responsibilities”. The country of 3.5m has ambitions to join the EU.
On Wednesday the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU had funded the still empty shelter in Bihac, but Bosnian officials had “ignored repeated appeals to provide basic and secure living conditions and humane treatment”.
His spokesman Peter Stano said “over the last two years, we provided over 90m euros (£81m; $110m) for centres, equipment, medical and social care.
“We need them to move – not play political games with people’s lives,” he complained.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55589090
Covid: Sweden official defends Christmas trip to Canary Islands
A top Swedish official involved in the coronavirus response has defended a Christmas holiday in the Canary Islands in the face of heavy criticism.
Dan Eliasson is head of the civil contingencies agency, which earlier in December had texted all Swedes urging them to avoid travel.
He was photographed in Las Palmas airport on the island of Gran Canaria.
Mr Eliasson insisted the trip was necessary “for family reasons”.
He told Swedish media that he had “given up a lot of trips during this pandemic” but thought this one was necessary because he had a daughter living in the Canaries.
“I celebrated Christmas with her and my family,” he told Expressen newspaper. He also said he had been worked remotely while in the Canaries.
Sweden has had 437,000 confirmed cases and 8,700 deaths – many more than its Scandinavian neighbours. The country has never imposed a full lockdown.
However, alarmed by rising numbers of cases last month, the Swedish government reversed some of its guidance and sent a text message to all Swedes asking them to read updated guidelines.
The guidelines included asking Swedes to avoid unnecessary trips and not to make new contacts during a journey or at the destination.
Mr Eliasson was then photographed several times in Gran Canaria, including at the airport.
There have been calls for Mr Eliasson, an experienced official who has worked at several important departments, to be fired.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other ministers have not yet commented, according to Swedish media.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55523587
UK regulator approves Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine
UK regulators have approved the use of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals and could in time offer a route out of the pandemic for large parts of the world.
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