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Coronavirus: Germany to go into lockdown over Christmas

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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

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Ursula von der Leyen offers speedy response to Ukraine’s bid to join EU

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European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha showed the “cruel face” of Russia’s army and pledged to try to speed Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.

During a visit to Bucha on Friday, where forensic investigators started to exhume bodies from a mass grave, Von der Leyen looked visibly moved by what she saw in the town northwest of Kyiv where Ukrainian officials say hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian forces.

Russia denies targeting civilians and has called the allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a “monstrous forgery”.

As EU officials were about to arrive in Kyiv, at least 50 people were killed and many more wounded in a missile strike at a railway station packed with civilians fleeing the threat of a major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

At a news conference, Von der Leyen condemned what she called “the cynical behaviour” of those who wrote “for our children” on the weapons found near the scene.

Saying the EU could never match the sacrifice of Ukraine, Von der Leyen offered it a speedier start to its bid for bloc membership.

Handing the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a questionnaire which will form a starting point for a decision on membership, she said: “It will not as usual be a matter of years to form this opinion but I think a matter of weeks.”

Zelenskiy told the same news conference he would come back with answers in a week.

“Russia will descend into economic, financial and technological decay, while Ukraine is marching towards the European future, this is what I see,” Von der Leyen said.

Earlier in Bucha, she told reporters: “The unthinkable has happened here. We have seen the cruel face of Putin’s army. We have seen the recklessness and the cold-heartedness with which they have been occupying the city.”

Von der Leyen’s trip to Kyiv was aimed at offering Zelenskiy moral and some financial support.

She pledged her support for Ukraine to “emerge from the war as a democratic country”, something, she said, the European Union and other donors would help with.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said he hoped the EU could allocate a further €500m (£420m) to Ukraine for arms purchases in a couple of days.

Zelenskiy has urged Brussels to do more to punish Russia, including banning purchases of Russian oil and gas, and has called on the EU to accept Ukraine as a full member.

Earlier, Borrell said oil sanctions were “a big elephant in the room“, with some concerns that a move to cut out Russian crude could cause a spike in prices that would be painful to European economies. He said a decision on exports would be raised on Monday in Brussels.

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Dutch officials drop case against Rijksmuseum over ‘racist’ word

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The director of the Rijksmuseum said he was “happy” as Dutch prosecutors announced they would not proceed with an investigation into complaints over a newly opened exhibition on Indonesian independence, the first of its kind in Europe.

The exhibition, Revolusi! Indonesia Independent, at the Netherlands’ national museum, has been a source a controversy since one of its curators, Bonnie Triyana, said the term “bersiap”, or stand by, would not be used in reference to the violent upheaval that followed a declaration of independence from the Dutch state.

Triyana claimed that use of the word, a battle cry for young Indonesians seeking independence, “takes on a strongly racist connotation” in the Netherlands today that “always portrays primitive, uncivilised Indonesians as perpetrators of the violence”. He said: “The team of curators has decided not to use the word bersiap as a common term referring to the violent period in Indonesia.”

In a sign of the ongoing sensitivity in Dutch society over the country’s colonial history, the comments drew a furious response in some quarters, with the head of the Federation of Dutch Indonesians, Hans Moll, accusing the Rijksmuseum of genocide denial by ignoring that “thousands of Dutch people were brutally tortured, raped and murdered by Indonesians because of their Dutch or European ethnicity”.

Complaints were made to the general prosecutor last month but Taco Dibbits, the Rijksmuseum’s director, said he had learned on the eve of the exhibition’s opening on Thursday that the justice ministry would not be proceeding with the case.

“I’m happy and had expected the decision that the case is not viable,” he said. “But I think it is very good that there is discussion about these concepts. It is our duty to broaden our view of history.”

Dibbits said the exhibition did make reference to the term bersiap but put it in the context of violence endured by a large range of people, and that the show explored the entire period from 1945 to 27 December 1949 when the Dutch withdrew.

He said: “The term ‘bersiap’ is used in the Netherlands by different communities that had to flee Indonesia and were repatriated during the revolution. It marks a very specific moment in time in the four and a half years of the revolution, the moment of the fall of 1945, when Indonesia has just declared itself independent and groups of insurgents executed extreme violence against several groups: Indo-Europeans, Moluccans on the Dutch side, and Chinese and others they thought were on the Dutch side. It takes place in the chaos just after the declaration of independence.

“We explain the source of the word, which started to be used in the Netherlands in the 1980s, and give it a historical context, but also speak about the violence against other groups during the revolution. We speak about violence in a much broader sense.”

Dibbits said he felt it was a “pity” that complaints had been made to the prosectors before the exhibition had opened. A second complaint, which is also not being pursued, was filed with prosecutors after Dibbits clarified before the opening that the bersiap concept would be referenced.

Dibbits said: “One claimed that not using the term was against history and the second complaint said the using of the term was against history.”

Indonesia became a member of the United Nations in 1950 and today the country counts about 270 million inhabitants across more than 17,000 islands.

The exhibition explores the personal stories of independence fighters, artists, diplomats, politicians, journalists and those seeking to maintain Dutch hold over the territory by displaying more than 200 objects, including privately owned keepsakes and paintings.

Dibbits said among the most powerful artefacts was a bundle of baby clothes made out of book covers, belonging to a young woman called Julia Nelisse. She had given birth to a daughter, Merani, in a leper colony in Pelantungan, modern-day Java, on 6 September 1947.

Corpses of fighters and civilians were regularly washing up on the river shore, which Nelisse laid out on cloth shrouds. Due to the lack of remaining cloth, she had to take the covers from books in the abandoned colony library to make into clothes. On show is a vest, a pillow and a nappy. “It is very emotional to see and brings it very close,” Dibbits said.

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Heidelberg shooting: One dead in gun attack on German students

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A lone gunman has killed one person and seriously injured three others inside a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany, before shooting himself dead.

He was an 18-year-old German student.

German police said the shooter, who was armed with two guns, had used a “long gun”, and fired shots around the amphitheatre “wildly”.

The bloodshed triggered a large operation at the university’s campus in the Neuenheimer Feld area.

Police asked people to avoid the area so rescue workers and emergency services could move around freely.

German media reported that the gunman appeared to have no religious or political motive.

Police have searched his flat in the city of Mannheim, and found a WhatsApp message he had sent shortly beforehand, in which he spoke of punishing people.

Heidelberg is a university town with about 160,000 inhabitants.

The country has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, and school shootings are rare. Anyone under 25 is required to pass a psychological evaluation before getting a gun licence.

Police initially said four victims had been wounded, with a later update confirming one had died in hospital.

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