Among the countries limiting crowds to promote social distancing and stall the transmission of the coronavirus, the U.S. federal government said this month that no more than 10 people should gather in one place. Switzerland said people in groups of fewer than five must stay at least two meters (six and a half feet) apart, subjected to a fine for those flouting the rules. Austria’s chancellor also announced major restrictions on movement in public places this month, banning gatherings of more than five people.
Many Germans were still not following the social distancing guidelines set last week to stem the outbreak, leading to the further restrictions announced on Sunday. Ms. Merkel discussed the prospect of harder curfews with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states on Sunday afternoon.
Bavaria was the first German state to pass a curfew, after many Bavarians last weekend appeared to be taking a casual approach to social distancing. The curfew, which came into effect on Saturday, prompted criticism from some opposition politicians. But others predicted that it could become a blueprint for measures elsewhere in the country.
Some cities needed no prompting to take tougher action: Freiburg, near Germany’s southwestern border with Alsace, France, where the virus has spread particularly aggressively, barred groups of people from gathering in public squares.
There have also been reports of “corona parties” held by youths in different corners of Germany, causing alarm among the authorities in a country better known for adhering to rules. Some parties, where youths in large groups drank alcohol and chanted, “Corona, corona,” had to be broken up by the police.
Ms. Merkel, in a sobering televised address to the nation on Wednesday, asked all in the country to avoid social contact in a spirit of solidarity with those most at risk in society. Her chief of staff, Helge Braun, issued a sterner warning a day later.
“We call on everyone to implement the measures so far passed,” Mr. Braun said. “And that means, apart from your core family, avoiding ideally all social contacts.”