DELockdown2020-2BERLIN--Some raced to pick up toilet paper. Others hurried to grab Yuletide gifts and sip a last warm Glühwein at Germany's famed Christmas markets – at those still open. Some just simply tried to get a haircut before hairdressers and other businesses were forced to close.

"I didn't make it in time," said Katrine, 51, in Berlin, who wanted a color and trim. "(My hairdresser) was slammed. I guess I'll just have to go into the new year gray."

Across Germany this week, streets went quiet and non-essential stores and schools closed their doors as part of a hard lockdown. Non-essential travel and shopping, and standing around outdoor tables with friends sipping the traditional mulled wine (Glühwein) joined eat-in dining, working-out and seeing a movie to become verboten.
That's because the so-called lockdown-lite that went into effect in early November – where all stores and schools were allowed to remain open – didn't work. Covid-19 transmission rates have risen to become some of the highest in the world – and is in the top 20 of total infections worldwide.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Germany spiked from 21 in November to 179 per 100,000 people this week, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the country's national agency for disease control. That's more than three times the number – 50 – the agency considers acceptable.
Meanwhile, daily infection rate hit 30,000 this week – up from the high of 7,000 this spring. Daily virus-related fatalities hit a record 952 on Wednesday in the country of 83 million.
Merkel, who faced opposition to the hard lockdown by some of the country's 16 states begged German lawmakers to support the restrictions saying November's lighter measures hadn't worked. Close to tears, she also pleaded with Germans to be more careful.
"As hard as it is – and I know how much love has gone into setting up these mulled wine stands – this is not the same as agreeing only to do takeout," she added. "I am really sorry, from the bottom of my heart...but the price of 590 deaths a day is not acceptable."
Germany along with South Korea and Taiwan, was once the model of how countries should deal with the virus. In the spring, its death rate from Covid-19 was among the lowest in the world. It's hospitals never even reached close to capacity.
What happened?
"A lot of people saw the low death rates and became too complacent," said Stefan, 53, who works in corporate sales in Frankfurt and raced to see his mother in Bavaria last weekend because they wouldn't be able to spend Christmas together. "People got too casual and now we have to pay for it."
"And I know many people planning to defy this lockdown," he added.
Many interviewed for this story noted how casual people became about masks and distancing after the hard lockdown this spring was lifted. In Berlin this fall, for example, outdoor café tables were often full, rarely spaced six feet apart and unlike France, no one donned masks on streets. And inside restaurants, bars and homes, people eat, drank and socialized together as usual.
Now, most German officials say it's time to get on track: "We need to be careful that Germany doesn't become the problem child of Europe," said Markus Soeder, the governor of the state of Bavaria.
That means Christmas will be a sad affair, say locals. The government has placed a ban on singing in churches even as religious services are allowed to go on – with masks and distancing. And gathering with family or friends is restricted to five people – excepting children and excepting Christmas.
And New Year's Eve? That crazy free-for-all in Berlin and other cities when fireworks are set off in all directions to turn streets into warzones? Nein – not this year – there is a ban on public outdoor gatherings and the sale of fireworks while some states have imposed curfews.
While most Germans accept the restrictions, businesses fret.
"The sales ban announced today will hit the industry hard – the entire industry is now threatened with insolvency," Thomas Schreiber, chairman of the board of the Association of the Pyrotechnic Industry told German daily, Die Zeit.
The German Retail Association is predicting a wave of bankruptcies saying the financial aid from the government to businesses hasn't been enough, especially as stores are forced to shut down during their busiest season.
The situation is dire for restaurants and bars which have been limited to doing takeout for about half the year. Some are getting creative with deliveries and crowd-funding campaigns to survive. Most are just hoping to hang on until next summer when the vaccinations are well underway and the rates of infection are down again.
"After the first lockdown, we managed to come back to our "before-corona-income" but with the arrival of autumn and the shorter and cooler days, the business dropped to less than 50 percent because we had to reduce the amount of people we could serve inside," said Anastasia Schöck-Bochenski who owns a bar in Berlin. "We definitely cannot talk about any profit here – we can only minimize the losses."
The lockdown is supposed to last until Jan. 10. If the cases remain high, it will be extended.
Most Germans support the restrictions – a YouGov poll released Wednesday found that 73 percent favor the tougher lockdown measures, while more than half of the supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party do so. The party has been vocal against restrictions.
Many of the 20 percent who oppose anti-Covid-19 measures have been on the streets demonstrating against masks and other measures for months – last weekend saw protests in Frankfurt and other cities even as business decried their impact on holiday sales as people stayed away from city centers.
"I've spent pretty much every weekend since April at a demonstration," said Malin S. on Twitter. "I never wear a mask, ever. I hug my friends like I always have. And I've never had the virus. How do supporters of the measures explain this phenomenon?"
In the eastern state of Saxony, which is a center of protests, the rates of infection are higher than anywhere else in the country. Hospital officials are begging people to be careful because they are running out of capacity to treat patients.
Schöck-Bochenski, meanwhile, says those who are protesting or failing to be careful are just making it worse for everyone else.
"To be honest, for me the 'lockdown lite' felt like an unfair and incomplete 'solution' – especially considering how people have been behaving in their daily lives and also those awful demonstrations," she said.
"Germany decided too late on this total lockdown – we could have had a Christmas with fewer victims and fatalities," she added. "Now we are trying to (fix) what we didn't in October and November."

Photo: December 14, 2020 - Berlin, Germany - Men queing up in front of a barbershop in Berlin two days before the German federal government imposes another hard lockdown on Dec. 16.
Credit: Eros Banaj/ ARA Network Inc. (12/14/20)

Story/photo published date: 12/17/2020

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.
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