Merkel backs tougher virus curbs as German deaths hit record

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has advocated tougher restrictions on public life and pleaded with her compatriots to cut down on socializing as the country reports its highest single-day coronavirus death toll yet

“We are in a decisive, perhaps the decisive, phase of fighting the pandemic,” Merkel told parliament Wednesday. “The figures are at much too high a level,” a visibly frustrated chancellor added, describing as “very alarming” the rising number of people requiring intensive care and dying.

Restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities are currently closed in Germany and hotels are closed to tourists, but schools and nonessential shops remain open.

Germany in the spring managed to avoid the high number of infections and grim death tolls seen in other large European nations, and still continues to have a much lower overall fatality rate than countries such as Britain, France or Spain.

But the current numbers are not encouraging. Germany’s new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days are now higher than in France, Belgium and Spain, and about level with Britain, though still well below Italy, Sweden and many others, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Merkel noted that a national academy of scientists and academics on Tuesday recommended that Germans reduce their social contacts starting next week and put in place a “hard lockdown” from Dec. 24 to Jan. 10.

“We would do well to really take seriously what scientists tell us,” she said.

“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and then it’s our last Christmas with our grandparents, then we will have been negligent,” she said.

Some state governors are already moving to tougher restrictions. The eastern state of Saxony, currently the worst-hit, will close schools and most stores on Monday until Jan. 10. Its southern neighbor, Bavaria, is introducing measures such as a nighttime curfew in its worst-affected areas and demanding more home schooling and stricter border controls.

Most Germans have supported restrictions and mask-wearing requirements, though a small but vocal minority opposes them and there have been protests drawing a wide variety of participants, including right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists.

On Wednesday, domestic intelligence officials in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said they are putting a group organizing those protests, Querdenken 711, under formal observation.

The group insists it has no place for extremism. But Beate Bube, the head of the state’s domestic intelligence agency, said her office has observed the group has both membership and ideological overlaps with known right-wing extremist groups.

“Extremist, conspiracy ideology and anti-Semitic content are being deliberately mixed with legitimate criticism of state measures to contain the corona(virus) pandemic,” she said.

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David Rising and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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