A pedestrian walks in front of a shopping mall in Frankfurt, Germany, on Dec. 16, 2020. Germany will go into stricter lockdown from Wednesday, closing non-essential shops and limiting the size of private gatherings, Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders agreed on Sunday. The tighter restrictive measures, which will be effective until Jan. 10, were in response to an "exponential growth" in the number of COVID-19 cases in Germany, according to a policy paper. (Photo by Armando Babani/Xinhua)
by Vanessa Lett
BERLIN, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- As the partial lockdown appears to have failed to reverse the trend of rising COVID-19 infections, Germans are in for an unusual holiday season because the country entered a hard lockdown on Wednesday.
Until at least Jan. 10, private gatherings are limited to two households or but to a maximum of five people. All non-essential stores and services in Germany have to remain closed, the German government and the federal states agreed on Sunday.
All schools in Germany are also closed as compulsory attendance has been suspended. With some exceptions, the same applies to day care facilities for children.
"We are forced to act and are acting now," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel when announcing the hard lockdown. The soft lockdown that had been in place since the beginning of November was "not enough."
COVID-19 SITUATION SERIOUS
Daily COVID-19 infections in Germany remain near last week's record high and increased by 27,728 on Wednesday to a total of nearly 1.38 million cases, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the federal government agency for disease control and prevention.
The number of deaths related to COVID-19 reached a new record, up by 952 within one day. To date, 23,427 people have died from the disease in Germany.
"The situation is as serious as it has ever been in this pandemic," RKI President Lothar Wieler said at a press conference earlier this week. The number of COVID-19 cases remains too high and the situation may get worse.
Merkel has repeatedly emphasized that a primary goal was to get the 7-day incidence, which currently stands at 179 per 100,000 people, below the threshold of 50. The country's health care system then would not be overburdened and tracing infection chains would be possible again.
NO CHRISTMAS MARKETS
For the three Christmas days (Dec. 24 to 26), the hard lockdown will be slightly softened to allow Germans to celebrate with their loved ones. The government will allow close family gatherings with up to four people beyond one's household members, effectively raising the limit of two households or five people.
Almost all the popular Christmas markets across the country have been canceled and every second German misses to visit them this year, according to a recent survey by the market research institute YouGov. To many Germans, these markets have a special emotional pull, but their economic significance is not negligible either.
Last year, around 2,600 Christmas markets held across the country generated 2.5 billion euros (3 billion U.S. dollars) in revenues plus approximately four billion euros indirectly through shopping in the city centers and overnight stays in hotels, a spokesperson of the German Market Traders Association told Xinhua.
According to the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the number of overnight stays in Germany in December last year increased by 3.5 percent compared to 2018. In December 2019, Germany's Christmas markets and other destinations attracted the largest number of visitors from the Netherlands, the United States and Switzerland.
SHIFT TO ONLINE SHOPPING
The German Retail Federation (HDE) has warned that the closure of non-food trade would cause enormous economic damage during the Christmas season. The period between Christmas and New Year as well as the week before Christmas Eve count as "top-selling time," said HDE Managing Director Stefan Genth.
German retailers affected by the lockdown now expect to lose around 20 percent of their annual sales compared to the previous year. At the same time, online retailers in Germany would see their revenues go up by around 20 percent.
The second COVID-19 wave dashed German consumers' economic and income expectations, according to a study by the market research institute GfK. Nevertheless, retailers could expect overall Christmas business to be "as good as last year."
With a budget for Christmas gifts averaging 330 euros, Germans are planning to spend just as much this year as in 2019, when sales during the Christmas season reached new record levels, according to the GfK study.
The German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association (bevh) estimated that Christmas sales would reach more than 100 billion euros again, with e-commerce bringing in more than 20 percent in the process.
Due to the noticeable "catalyst effect" of the coronavirus crisis since April, a "significant shift of Christmas shopping to the internet" is noticeable, said Martin Gross-Albenhausen, deputy chief executive officer of bevh. Enditem