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Coronavirus: Germany to go into lockdown over Christmas



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.

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Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO



bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.

The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.

The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.

Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.

A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.

But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.

In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.

In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.

A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.

The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.

As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.

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Liverpool bomb investigators ‘discovering more by the hour’ says security minister



independent– Security minister Damian Hinds has said counterterrorism police are “discovering more by the hour” about the Liverpool attack, as he suggested it was “not impossible” others could have been involved.

His remarks come after police named the failed bomber who died in the Liverpool Women’s Hospital explosion as 32-year-old Emad al-Swealmeen and the UK’s terror threat was raised to “severe” from “substantial”.

Addressing the situation, Mr Hinds stressed it could be “weeks” before the full picture of the attack is known, including the motivation and whether others were involved.

“It’s a live investigation and the police do have the space, the time, to be able to conduct that investigation fully and carry on their searches of the key address and carry on with the analysis,” he told Times Radio.

He said: “It’s not impossible that there could be other people involved. If that is the case, as the police said in their statement last night, they’ll make arrests quickly.

“I’m not in a position to be able to comment on the background of the individual, the deceased individual or to speculate about the case.”

In a separate interview on Sky News, the minister also said the Covid pandemic and lockdowns may have “exacerbated” the number of people self-radicalising online — an issue previously highlighted by experts.

He said: “It certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time, a shift from these what we call directed attacks, part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation, and move from that to more self-directed, some self-radicalised individuals or small groups, rarely totally, totally alone.”

He added: “There has been that move. During the lockdown periods there have been more people spending more time in front of computer screens and we know that when that happens for a very small minority, a very very small minority, there can be radicalisation.

“I’m afraid it’s not brand now — radicalisation, self-radicalisation on the internet, the propaganda, the way people make contact with each other, that is not a new development, but like a number of things the changes we saw through the coronavirus period, through lockdown changed the modus operandi and this case yes they will have exacerbated and increased the amount of time people are spending online”.

But he defended the decision to reduce the terror threat in February when quizzed on the issue, saying: “The alert level is determined independently of ministers — it’s not something I determine, or the Home Secretary determines.

“We have a body JTAC — Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre — who are experts in this area. They use the alert level the way that law enforcement, security services and others can calibrate what they are doing.

“We’ve been at a high alert for a very long time now and that’s the important,” he added.

Asked again on why the alert level was changed despite the risk of people becoming radicalised online during the pandemic, he added: “The alert level was substantial, meaning an attack was likely.”

He added: “These are not decisions that I made or ministers mind. We trust professionals and experts in the field. My opinion is that I absolutely trust them to make those correct judgments. “

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Belarus migrant crisis: Germany calls for new EU sanctions



dw– German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for new EU sanctions against Belarus on Wednesday amid an escalating migrant crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border.

Thousands of people are stranded at the EU’s eastern border in freezing weather, with Warsaw accusing Russia and Belarus of using the migrants to threaten European security.

What did Germany’s foreign minister say?

Maas said in a statement that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is “unscrupulously exploiting” the migrants and sending them to the border region.

“We will sanction all those who participate in the targeted smuggling of migrants,” the German foreign minister asserted, while adding that the EU will push to “extend and tighten … sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime.”

Any fresh sanctions could target not only countries involved in smuggling the migrants but also airlines that faciliate their travel to Europe.

EU officials accuse Belarus of weaponizing the migrants against the 27-member bloc in retaliation for previous sanctions against Minsk. Lukashenko has denied that his government is orchestrating the migrant crisis.

Maas said the images of the thousands of migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border are “appalling.”

Maas’ remarks come after German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Tuesday edition of Germany’s Bild tabloid that the EU needs to do more to help Poland secure its border. Poland has refused to let the migrants in.

How has the EU responded so far?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for “approval of extended sanctions” against Belarus on Monday.

The bloc has previously approved four rounds of sanctions targeting 166 people and 15 entities linked to Lukashenko’s regime.

Tensions have been fraught between the EU and Belarus since the state-ordered hijacking of a Ryanair flight over Belarusian territory in May.

The EU has also condemned last year’s presidential election in Belarus as neither free nor fair, with Lukashenko having declared a landslide victory against opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

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