GERMANY'S coronavirus outbreak is "out of control" as cases and deaths continue to soar after an unsuccesful lockdown light, according to Angela Merkel's economy minister.

Peter Altmaier said that "the less intrusive measures were not enough", as Germany was plunged into a new national lockdown over the Christmas period.

All non-essential retail and schools will be closed from December 16 until January 10, in new measures announced by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The "hard lockdown" comes after 16,362 cases and 188 further deaths were added to Germany's tally today, bringing the total infection count to 1.34 million and the death toll to 21,975.

Altmaier warned of the pressure these rising cases would put on hospitals if the new lockdown was not imposed, as the number of intensive care patients reached a record high of more than 4,500.

The "lockdown light" imposed in November saw an ease in infections as bars, restaurants and all leisure and cultural facilities were closed.

Yet the infection rate has picked up again in the last week after remaining at a high level, with the death rate yet to reach a visible peak.

Despite the daunting figures, Altmaier remained optimistic that Europe's largest economy could avoid going back into recession.

"I hope we can prevent a complete economic standstill in the second wave of the pandemic," he told Deustchlandfunk radio.

Merkel agreed the new measures with the leaders of Germany's 16 states on Sunday, in hope to stop the "exponential growth" of new infections.

The news was welcomed by The German Hospital Federation, although they find it "difficult to comprehend" why the European Medicines Agency had not yet approved the first coronavirus vaccine.

The data submitted by Pfizer and BioNTech was "very robust", the EMA's director said on Thursday, but the agency has yet to complete its reviews.

The number of people allowed to meet indoors will remain restricted to five, not including children under 14 – except for Christmas.

Companies have urged staff to work from home or offered employees extended holidays, as hair salons and cosmetic studios are forced to close.

The usual mulled wine stands on the streets have been scrapped, as alcohol sales are banned in all public places.

The sale of fireworks has been banned as well as public outdoor gatherings on New Years Eve.

Bavarian premier Markus Soeder welcomed the new measures, saying that 'the corona situation is out of control' and promising to implement the restrictions. 

'We need to be careful that Germany doesn't become the problem child of Europe,' he said.

The increasing infection rate began in the run up to Christmas as people met friends and relatives ahead of the holiday.

'With increasing mobility and the associated additional contacts in the pre-Christmas period, Germany is now in an exponential growth of infection numbers,' said the policy paper agreed by regional leaders and Merkel.

The Chancellor said it was therefore: "our task to prevent an overload of our health systems and that's why there is an urgent need to take action."

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