Germany plans Christmas curbs as COVID-19 deaths hit record

FILE PHOTO: People wear protective face masks as they walk at Alexanderplatz shopping area amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Berlin, Germany, November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany reported a record 410 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, before the 16 federal state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel were due to meet on Wednesday to discuss restrictions for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 18,633 to 961,320, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed, 5,015 less than the record increase reported on Friday.

However, the death toll jumped 410 to 14,771, up from 305 a week ago, and just 49 on Nov. 2, the day Germany introduced a partial lockdown.

Saxony's premier Michael Kretschmer warned of a collapse of medical care in the coming weeks.

"The situation in the hospitals is worrying... We cannot guarantee medical care at this high level (of infections)," he told MDR radio.

The federal states are expected to decide on Wednesday to extend the "lockdown light" until Dec. 20. This will keep bars, restaurants and entertainment venues shut while schools and shops stay open.

They also plan to reduce the number of people allowed to meet to five from Dec. 1, but allow gatherings of up to 10 people over Christmas and New Year to let families and friends celebrate together, a draft proposal showed on Tuesday.

The state chiefs will also discuss whether to split school classes into smaller units and teach them at varying times, as well as a possible earlier start of Christmas school holidays.

The government plans to extend financial aid for firms hit by the restrictions, which, according to sources, could add up to 20 billion euros ($23.81 billion) in December to an estimated 10-15 billion euros bill in November.

Conservative parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus urged the federal states to take over part of the costs for the coronavirus measures. "It is now time for the states to take on financial responsibility," he told the RTL/ntv broadcaster.

($1 = 0.8399 euros)

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Toby Chopra and Emma Thomasson)

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