Germany Bans Groups of More Than 2 to Stop Coronavirus as Merkel Self-Isolates
BERLIN — Germany on Sunday barred groups of more than two people from gathering, except for families, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said she herself was going into isolation because her doctor had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The chancellor was informed of her doctor’s infection after a news conference Sunday at which she announced the tough new measures severely limiting social contact. The doctor vaccinated Ms. Merkel against pneumonia on Friday, the chancellor’s office said.
Ms. Merkel said the new social-distancing rules, which will be in place for at least two weeks, were among the strictest by any country on movement outside the home. They were announced as global infections surpassed 300,000 and the death toll topped 13,000.
In Germany, the number of confirmed cases risen to more than 23,900 by Sunday, with more than 90 deaths.
“We are further reducing public life and social contact and ensuring that the measures will be nationwide,” the chancellor said. “Everyone should organize their movements according to these regulations.”
Under the new restrictions, restaurants, which were previously allowed to seat customers during the day at a safe distance from each other, will be allowed to stay open but provide only delivery and takeout services. Hairdressers, massage studios and tattoo parlors must now close their doors.
Ms. Merkel’s announcement, after a telephone conference with the governors of Germany’s 16 states, fell in line with restrictions put in place by the state of Bavaria, which on Friday restricted all movement outside the home, except for trips for shopping, work, doctor’s visits and exercise.
The announcement came as officials prepared to make 150 billion euros, more than $160 billion, available to help the country weather the fallout.
Germany also planned to take on new debt for the first time since adopting a law requiring a balanced budget after the 2008 financial crisis. It will enact an exception to the law to allow the government to borrow tens of billions of euros to help companies survive the looming recession and secure millions of jobs.
The measure is expected to be passed by Ms. Merkel’s government on Monday and voted on in Parliament later in the week.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz justified the decision to borrow more than 10 times more than the country’s budget rules would normally allow, saying that “150 billion is a very big sum, but it gives us the opportunities that we need now.”
“We have a big challenge ahead of us,” he told the public broadcaster A.R.D. on Saturday.
Among the countries limiting crowds to promote social distancing and stall the transmission of the coronavirus, the U.S. federal government said this month that no more than 10 people should gather in one place. Switzerland said people in groups of fewer than five must stay at least two meters (six and a half feet) apart, subjected to a fine for those flouting the rules. Austria’s chancellor also announced major restrictions on movement in public places this month, banning gatherings of more than five people.
Many Germans were still not following the social distancing guidelines set last week to stem the outbreak, leading to the further restrictions announced on Sunday. Ms. Merkel discussed the prospect of harder curfews with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states on Sunday afternoon.
Bavaria was the first German state to pass a curfew, after many Bavarians last weekend appeared to be taking a casual approach to social distancing. The curfew, which came into effect on Saturday, prompted criticism from some opposition politicians. But others predicted that it could become a blueprint for measures elsewhere in the country.
Some cities needed no prompting to take tougher action: Freiburg, near Germany’s southwestern border with Alsace, France, where the virus has spread particularly aggressively, barred groups of people from gathering in public squares.
There have also been reports of “corona parties” held by youths in different corners of Germany, causing alarm among the authorities in a country better known for adhering to rules. Some parties, where youths in large groups drank alcohol and chanted, “Corona, corona,” had to be broken up by the police.
Ms. Merkel, in a sobering televised address to the nation on Wednesday, asked all in the country to avoid social contact in a spirit of solidarity with those most at risk in society. Her chief of staff, Helge Braun, issued a sterner warning a day later.
“We call on everyone to implement the measures so far passed,” Mr. Braun said. “And that means, apart from your core family, avoiding ideally all social contacts.”
“We will look at the behavior of the population this weekend,” he added. “Saturday is a decisive day.”
Ms. Merkel, meanwhile, demonstrated what responsible shopping looks like in times of the coronavirus, when she was spotted at her local supermarket in Berlin this weekend.
Keeping her distance from other shoppers, a smiling Ms. Merkel dropped cherries, soap, several bottles of wine and toilet paper — one pack — into her shopping cart, photos on social media showed.
The chancellor paid by card, effectively discarding another German tradition: paying cash. Many stores have become averse to exchanging coins and notes during the outbreak.