Germany will impose an emergency month-long lockdown that includes the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres to reverse a spike in coronavirus cases that risks overwhelming hospitals, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.

“We need to take action now,” she said, adding that the key to defusing the current “very serious” situation was to reduce contacts while limiting damage to the economy.

Effective Nov. 2 , private gatherings will be limited to 10 people from a maximum of two households. Restaurants, bars, theatres, cinemas, pools and gyms will be shut and concerts cancelled.

Professional sports events will be allowed, but without spectators. People will be asked not to travel for private, non-essential reasons, and overnight stays in hotels will be available only for necessary business trips.

Schools and daycare centres will, however, remain open, as will shops, so long as they stick to physical distancing and hygiene rules. The nationwide rules replace a confusing patchwork of regional measures.

A 10 billion euro ($15.6 billion Cdn) aid package will pay companies that have to close a share of their lost sales during the shutdown. Smaller companies, with up to 50 employees, will receive 75 per cent of the year-earlier revenues for the month of November.

The Robert Koch Institute, headed by Lothar Wieler, pictured, found that cases in Germany rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours on Wednesday. Germany is now in the midst of a second wave after being praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours. (Markus Schreiber, Pool/The Associated Press)

Germany was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic but is now in the midst of a second wave.

Cases rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours, the Robert Koch Institute, a German agency responsible for disease control and prevention, said on Wednesday.

Deaths jumped by 85 to 10,183, fuelling fears about the health system after Merkel warned it could hit a breaking point if infections continue to spiral.

“Our health system can still cope with this challenge today, but at this speed of infections, it will reach the limits of its capacity within weeks,” she said.

Merkel said health authorities were no longer able to trace the origin of about 75 per cent of infections, which made it difficult to say exactly which measures would have the biggest impact.

“We have to reduce contacts somewhere. If we wait longer, we will have to reduce contacts even more,” she said.

Merkel and state leaders will reconvene two weeks into the partial lockdown to assess how effective the measures decided on Wednesday are.

Nationwide curfew in Czech Republic

Officials in Germany have cited the failure by authorities in the neighbouring Czech Republic to maintain their springtime successes against the virus, saying they opened too widely in the summer.

The Czech Health Ministry said the country’s day-to-day case increase hit a new record high of 15,663 Tuesday — as many as Germany, which has eight times the population.

Demonstrators protest COVID-19 preventative measures in downtown Prague on Wednesday. Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have again jumped to record levels, prompting the government to impose new restrictive measures to curb the spread. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

The Czech government has further tightened its regulations, imposing a nationwide curfew between 9 p.m and 6 a.m. that started Wednesday. It previously limited free movement, closed stores, schools and restaurants, made it mandatory to wear face masks indoors and outdoors and banned sport competitions, but the number of infections has continued to rise.

Several demonstrations against the virus restrictions were planned for Wednesday in the capital of Prague.

France returns to lockdown 

France will go back into a nationwide lockdown starting Friday to try to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that is again threatening to spiral out of control, French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation on Wednesday.

The new measures echo the eight-week lockdown that France enforced in the spring, when hospitalizations and deaths caused by the coronavirus reached a peak. But unlike the previous lockdown, most schools are to remain open, Macron said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, shown on television addressing the nation on Wednesday, that the country will return to a lockdown starting Friday to try to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. (Christian Hartmann/Illustration/Reuters)

The new measures he announced will mean people have to stay in their homes except to buy essential goods, seek medical attention or use their daily one-hour allocation of exercise.

People will still be allowed to go to work if their employer deems it impossible for them to do the job from home.

“The virus is circulating at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated,” Macron said. “Like all our neighbours, we are submerged by the sudden acceleration of the virus.

“We are all in the same position: overrun by a second wave which we know will be harder, more deadly than the first.”

France on Tuesday reported 523 new deaths from COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily toll since April, when the virus was at its most severe. Doctors have warned that intensive care units risk becoming overwhelmed.

The new restrictions will be in place until the beginning of December, Macron said, adding that if the situation has improved in two weeks, the government will review the possibility of reopening some shops deemed as non-essential.

Doctors in France have been calling on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown, noting that more than half of the country’s intensive care units are occupied by COVID-19 patients, and medical staff are under increasing strain.

A nurse holds the hand of a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Arles, southern France, on Wednesday. Doctors have been calling on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown, noting that more than half of the country’s intensive care units are occupied by COVID-19 patients. (Daniel Cole/The Associated Press)

France’s death toll, at more than 35,000, is the seventh-highest in the world, according to Reuters data. 

Overall, Europe has experienced more than 250,000 virus-related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The World Health Organization said hospitalizations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 increased in 21 countries across Europe.

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