Angela Merkel called on Wednesday for new coronavirus restrictions across the whole of Germany, where existing measures have proved to be inadequate to control infections.
"The contact" between people "is too high, the reduction in the amount of contact is insufficient," the German Chancellor told parliament.
Merkel backed proposals from a group of experts targeting the closure of all non-food shops and schools, between Christmas and mid-January at the latest. Germany's national academy of sciences has called for restrictions to be stepped up.
The chancellor also appealed for contact to be kept to "a minimum" between now and the holiday period, raising the possibility of bringing forward the start of the school break.
Germany has registered a record number of deaths from COVID-19 in the latest 24-hour period, with the figure standing at 590.
Struggle to contain infections
The country is experiencing a serious second wave, despite acting in early November to stem a rapid rise in infections, with closures in the restaurant, culture and sports sectors.
But the number of new cases still remains at a high level, more than in France. The number of patients in intensive care is worrying the authorities.
The federal government and regional leaders are due to meet before Christmas to discuss new measures. Several badly-affected regions such as Bavaria and Saxony have already taken action, but others are more reluctant to tighten restrictions.
The eastern state of Saxony, where schools and most stores will close from Monday until mid-January, has logged the country's worst infection rates.
In Bavaria to the south, governor Markus Soeder urged the state parliament in Munich to back a state of emergency and bring in a nighttime curfew, more homeschooling and stricter border controls.
“Every four minutes a person in Germany dies of coronavirus,” he said, calling the outbreak “the biggest disaster that our generation has ever experienced.”
Clampdown on 'Gluehwein hopping'
Soeder slammed the far-right Alternative for Germany party and its members, who have railed against the restrictions and in some cases made unfounded claims that the coronavirus pandemic is over.
He also said authorities in Bavaria would crack down on what he called “Gluehwein hopping” — the practice of going from one outdoor stall serving mulled wine to another to get around the closure of bars.
Despite a limit on gatherings to a maximum of five people, mulled wine stalls — a German tradition over the Christmas holiday period — have been springing up around the country, attracting large crowds outside.
Authorities say they have become a significant factor in spreading the virus.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany's disease control agency, reported 14,054 newly-confirmed cases in the past 24 hours on Tuesday, taking the total since the start of the outbreak to almost 1.2 million. The number of COVID-19-related deaths in the country rose by 423 to 19,342.
(Watch more on this story from our reporter in Germany Jona Källgren in the player above).