German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Germans Monday to abide by strict new lockdown measures to be implemented Wednesday, saying the situation regarding the coronavirus was "bitterly serious."
Steinmeier addressed the nation a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the new measures beginning set to run through January 10, to stop the sharp rise of COVID-19 cases in the country. Merkel and the Germany’s 16 regional governors agreed Sunday to close non-essential businesses and limit private gatherings to no more than five people.
In his address, Steinmeier said the restrictions were the severest in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, but the situation was such that, “We cannot avoid drastic measures.”
The president said the country had come a long way and urged Germans to work together to overcome the crisis, saying, “We must succeed. And we will succeed."
Germany has been recording steadily higher confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks. The Robert Koch Institute - the country's central disease control center - reported 16,362 new cases Monday, and 188 new deaths, bringing the overall death toll to 21,975. Last week, the daily death numbers rose to almost 600 cases in one day.
Hospitals across the country had repeatedly warned in recent weeks that they were reaching their limits in caring for COVID-19 patients, and that staffing on intensive care units was becoming a problem.
On Monday, 4,552 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care units, 52 percent of them on respirators.
Starting Wednesday, schools nationwide will be closed or switch to home schooling; most non-food stores will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hair salons that have so far been allowed to remain open.
Restaurant takeout will still be permitted, but no eating or drinking can take place on site.
With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.
The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate New Year's will also be banned, as will public outdoor gatherings on New Year's Eve.