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Coronavirus: National shutdown looms in Germany as Bavaria imposes total lockdown

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK

19 March 2020, Bavaria, Munich: Markus Söder (CSU), Prime Minister of Bavaria, comes to the Bavarian parliament for a plenary session. The topic of the session is a government declaration including debates on the coronavirus crisis in Bavaria. Photo: Sven Hoppe/dpa (Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The leader of Germany’s largest state, Bavaria, has announced a complete shutdown on all public life, beginning from this evening (20 March), and lasting for at least the next two weeks to try and contain the spread of coronavirus.

"We are shutting down public life almost completely," Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder said in a live press conference this afternoon. He said that too many people were not heeding warnings to keep their distance from each other and stay at home, instead doing things like having “corona parties” and in some cases treating the virus as a joke.

“This cannot continue,” Söder said. “We have to break the wave of escalating infections.” As of today, Germany has over 15,000 reported coronavirus cases, and 44 people have died from the infection.

From midnight tonight, inhabitants of Bavaria will only be allowed to leave their houses to go shopping for essential items, to go to the doctors, and to go to work, but ideally everyone should aim to work from home.

READ MORE: Germany's Merkel says COVID-19 is the 'biggest challenge since WWII' in rare national TV address

All restaurants will be closed for the duration of the lockdown, but are allowed to serve food to go. DIY and garden centres must stay shut.

Hairdressers will be closed too — until now, they were included in the list of “essential” exceptions that were permitted to stay open. He urged people not to go out panic-buying nor rush to cash machines, as banks would remain open and there would be no bottlenecks in food supplies.

“This is the only way to break this curve according to the experts,” Söder said. “For responsible people, not much will change— but for the irresponsible, there are now precise rules.”

“Stay at home, only go out in emergencies, do not make parties at home, and don’t invite the neighbours round,” he said, noting that fresh air is good for health and people are allowed to go for walks alone or with family members.

Söder noted that as a border region, Bavaria was in a riskier position than, for example, states in the centre of the country, which was a main reason for doing the same as France and instigating strict lockdowns. 

‘Saturday is decisive’

20 March 2020, Berlin: Two men training in the Volkspark Wilmersdorf at a fitness facility closed with a barrier tape, aimed at restricting the spread of coronavirus. Photo: Christoph Soeder/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Bavarian government’s move paves the way for other 15 states in Germany to impose their own stricter lockdowns or curfews. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun told Der Spiegel on Friday that the government would observe how people behave over the weekend, and then decide on whether or not to announce a country-wide lockdown.

"We will look at people’s behaviour this weekend," Braun said. "Saturday is a decisive day, and we will keep a close eye on that."

There was outrage this week as crowds of people in Berlin blatantly ignored Merkel’s repeated appeals to restrict contact with others, gathering to enjoy the unusually warm weather in parks and cafes. Playgrounds, which were supposed to be closed in keeping with school shutdowns, remained defiantly open in many neighbourhoods.

UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, the German states of Baden-Württemberg, Saarland, Lower Saxony, and Hessen also announced bans on groups of more than one or two people meeting in public places and the closure of all restaurants.

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