German states are planning to ease virus rules for Christmas

By Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s 16 federal states plan to allow gatherings of up to 10 people at Christmas and New Year, easing corona virus restrictions so families and friends can celebrate together, a draft proposal said Tuesday.

The prime ministers of the states are due to make an agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller told ARD television that he was confident that the measures adopted by leaders late on Monday would be adopted.

The premieres agreed to extend the national “lock light” introduced on November 2 until December 20 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. This keeps bars, restaurants and nightclubs closed, while schools and shops remain open.

They also agreed to reduce the number of people allowed to meet to five from 1 December.

Germany, which kept infections and deaths low in the first phase of the crisis compared to many of its neighbors, halted the exponential growth of new coronavirus cases, but the total is still too high, officials say.

To preserve public participation, the premieres want to provide relief at Christmas, saying no more than 10 people can meet between 23 December and 1 January.

“Christmas and other year-end celebrations should allow for holidays with family and friends even in this unusual year, albeit to a lesser extent,” the draft says.

They also stopped recommending a general ban on fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but said none of them were allowed into public spaces to avoid large crowds.

They plan to extend support to businesses affected by the November restrictions. The government expects the November subsidy to cost € 10-15 billion, and the resources estimate additional costs in December, possibly around € 15-20 billion.

Europe’s largest economy grew by a record 8.5% in the third quarter, following a 9.8% fall in the spring. However, German business morale fell to the second month of November, suggesting a decline in the fourth quarter, Ifo said.

In Germany, the number of coronavirus cases has increased by 13,554 in the last 24 hours, to a total of 942,687 on Tuesday. The total number of deaths reported was 14,361.

(Additional reviews: Caroline Copley and Christian Kraemer; by Madeline Chambers; edited by Thomas Seythal, Kevin Liffey, Alexandra Hudson)