Merkel decries populists who say COVID is harmless

With an election less than a year away, Merkel is keen to keep Germans on board, despite the risk of a new hit to Europe's biggest economy.

She said populists who question the seriousness of the crisis were putting lives at risk.

Criticism of the latest restrictions has come from sectors that will be hit hardest, including hospitality and gastronomy.

Worried hospitals will be overwhelmed, Merkel announced on Wednesday a month-long lockdown from Nov. 2 to include the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres.

Germany was widely praised for keeping infection and deaths below those of many of its neighbours early in the crisis but, like much of Europe, is now in the midst of a second wave.

It recorded a record 16,774 rise in cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 481,013.

The death toll rose by 89 to 10,272.

"The winter will be hard - four long, hard months - but it will end," said Merkel.