Health

Germany to extend lockdown; UK announces aid package; Belgium rates fall

Madrid Desk, Jan 5 (efe-epa).- German authorities on Tuesday will extend current lockdown measures until the end of the month, while the British finance minister unveiled a multi-billion pound scheme to help ailing businesses following the prime minister’s announcement of a return to a national lockdown.

As rates continue to rise in several neighboring countries, relatively low figures in Belgium are showing that tough early restrictions imposed back in October have successfully slowed the spread of coronavirus in that country.

GERMANY

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the heads of the country’s 16 state governments were meeting on Tuesday with a view to extending lockdown restrictions that are currently in place until January 10.

Since December 16, Germany has closed all non-essential stores, allowing only those that sell food and other everyday products, opticians and orthopedists, pharmacies, banks, post offices, gas stations and, in some states, bookstores to stay open.

Those closures were added to the November 2 suspension of nightlife, cultural life and gastronomy.

Merkel and most of the prime ministers of the country’s federal states are in favor of extending the restrictions until the end of January, German media reports state.

Some prime ministers, such as North Rhine-Westphalia’s Armin Laschet or the Bavarian Markus Söder, have publicly expressed their support for an extension of the restrictions and are convinced that an agreement will be reached at the meeting on Tuesday.

“The restrictions will continue until the end of January,” Laschet said in a videoconference with regional politicians.

UK

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced on Tuesday a new package of financial aid valued at 4.5 billion pounds (4.927 million euros) to support businesses affected by the new lockdown measures.

In a statement, Sunak said that companies in the hotel, retail and leisure sectors could apply for the new aid, up to a maximum of 9,000 pounds per business.

The announcement of the Covid relief package comes the day after prime minister Boris Johnson announced that England, Scotland and Northern Ireland would again go into lockdown to stem the spread of a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus. Wales was already under similar restrictions.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we’re announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the Spring,” Sunak said.

“This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen.”

The United Kingdom on Tuesday returned to a strict lockdown not seen since March amid the spread of the new variant of coronavirus, which Boris Johnson called “frustrating and alarming”.

The country broke its own record number of infections on Monday, with 58,784 new cases.

BELGIUM

Covid-19 indicators are falling in Belgium following the Christmas vacation season, unlike in neighboring countries like Germany, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom, which in recent days have all moved to tighten restrictions amid escalating infection rates.

“We have adopted a positive attitude during the Christmas vacations. This allows us to start this year with a decrease in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, similar to what happened before the Christmas vacations,” the French-speaking spokesman of the Institute of Public Health Sciensano, Yves van Laethem, told a press conference.

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