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Coronavirus: Germany's tighter restrictions kick in after 'lockdown light' fails

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Vehicles drive past the gasometer with the neon sign "Stay Safe" on the city highway in the morning rush hour, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020.
Vehicles drive past the gasometer with the neon sign "Stay Safe" on the city highway in the morning rush hour, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020.   -   Copyright  Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP
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Germans rushed to shopping streets and pedestrian zones in Cologne and Berlin on Tuesday, one day before tighter restrictions take effect shortly before Christmas.

Germany is closing most stores and schools, and further limiting social contacts in an effort to drive down the rate of coronavirus infections that have remained stubbornly high in recent weeks.

Most non-food stores will be shuttered, as will businesses such as hairdressers that have so far been allowed to remain open; restaurant takeout will remain permitted, but consumption on-site — including of alcoholic drinks — will be banned.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany's 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country's lockdown measures from December 16 to January 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases.

Pharmacies also started giving out free FFP2 face masks Tuesday to people older than 60 and those with existing chronic illnesses.

Eligible people can get three masks until January 6.

Existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections, she said.

Germany recorded 20,200 newly confirmed cases and 321 additional deaths Sunday, a high number for the weekend when many local authorities don't report figures.

With the exception of Christmas, the number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14.

The sale of fireworks traditionally used to celebrate New Year's will be banned, as will the outdoor sale of alcohol.