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Germany bans gathering in synagogues as part of sweeping curbs on public life

Merkel announces unprecedented measures to keep Germans home in virus fight, including closing non-essential shops and calling on citizens to nix vacations

A Star of David on the cupola of the Halle synagogue silhouettes against the evening sky on October 10, 2019, in Halle, eastern Germany, one day after the deadly anti-Semitic shooting. (Soeren Stache/DPA/AFP)
A Star of David on the cupola of the Halle synagogue silhouettes against the evening sky on October 10, 2019, in Halle, eastern Germany, one day after the deadly anti-Semitic shooting. (Soeren Stache/DPA/AFP)

BERLIN, Germany — German leaders on Monday urged citizens to stay home, as the government announced unprecedented nationwide measures to radically scale back public life in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to cancel any vacations at home and abroad, while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told people to “stay at home.”

The government banned gatherings in synagogues, churches and mosques and ordered non-essential shops as well as playgrounds shut.

At a press conference in Berlin, Merkel said that, under the new measures, “there shouldn’t be any vacation trips undertaken inside the country or outside it.”

“There have never been measures like this in our country before. They are far-reaching, but at the moment they are necessary.”

Meanwhile, Steinmeier called on Germans to “work together to ensure the virus spreads as slowly as possible.”

“So wherever possible: stay at home! Avoid close contact… and have understanding for all restrictive measures,” he said in a statement.

The sweeping restrictions aimed at “limiting social contact in public places” will leave most sites from museums to swimming pools to gyms shuttered.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a press statement on the spread of the coronavirus at the Chancellery in Berlin, March 16, 2020. (Markus Schreiber / POOL / AFP)

But supermarkets, banks, and post offices will stay open, as will pharmacies and petrol stations.

Hairdressers, construction supply stores, and laundromats will also keep operating, said the government, saying that the move was to ensure that “service providers and craftsmen can continue to carry out their trade.”

Restaurants and cafes can stay open, but only until 6 p.m. daily.

Hotels will only be used for “essential and explicitly not for tourist purposes,” the government added.

Authorities had last week ordered schools shut, and regional trains have been curtailed in a bid to reduce travel.

Germany also from Monday re-introduced checks on its borders with Austria, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Denmark, turning back motorists without an essential reason to enter Germany.

With most of Europe now in lockdown, and stock markets in a tailspin, Berlin on Friday promised companies “unlimited” credit to keep them afloat.

The economic package is worth at least 550 billion euros ($614 billion) initially — the biggest in Germany’s post-war history.

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