Germany extended its lockdown measures by another month and imposed several new restrictions, including largely shutting down public life over Easter, in an effort to drive down the rate of coronavirus infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the measures early this morning after a lengthy video call with the country’s 16 state governors, nearly three weeks after the two sides last agreed on a plan paving the way to relax some rules.
Since then, infections have increased steadily as the more contagious variant first detected in Britain has become dominant. The restrictions previously set to run through March 28 will now remain in place until April 18.
Merkel told Germans: ‘We are in a new pandemic.’
Regions were the weekly number of new infections exceeds 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days will face tougher rules, as agreed at the previous meeting.
‘Unfortunately, we will have to make use of this emergency brake,’ Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
Mrs Merkel said Germany’s lockdown would need extending through the Easter holidays with all-but food shops closed
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bavarian State Premier Markus Soeder and Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller walk after a meeting with state leaders to discuss Covid regulations
Germany is one of several European countries facing tough new lockdown measures as cases spike amid a stalled vaccine roll-out that has left people unprotected
Angela Merkel previously warned that Germany would have to reimpose lockdown if cases soared above a certain level which was passed on Sunday (left). Deaths have been coming down steadily, but there are fears the trend will reverse
The EU has threatened to block millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine from coming to the UK after Britain streaked ahead in the race to inoculate its population
The weekly infection rate per 100,000 people stood at 107 nationwide on Monday, up from the mid-60s three weeks ago.
Officials agreed to largely shut down public life from April 1-3, adding a public holiday and shutting down most stores for the period. Public gatherings will be banned from April 1-5, to encourage people to stay at home.
Amid concern over the rise in Germans traveling abroad on holidays, authorities also agreed on a blanket requirement for air travelers to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to Germany.
Drawing up legally watertight rules has proved a headache at times. A court in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, said Monday it struck down rules requiring people to get appointments to visit shops. It said they violated a requirement that businesses get equal treatment.
The state government promptly reinstated the rules, tightening them for some businesses – such as bookshops and garden centers – that were previously exempt.
Angela Merkel takes part in a meeting of regional German leaders before announcing her plan to extend and tighten lockdown measures
According to Tuesday’s agreement, authorities will aim to offer free tests to all students and teachers in German schools, many of which have only recently reopened after months of remote teaching.
Merkel said Germany, which had comparatively low deaths during the first phase of the pandemic last spring, has seen ‘successes but also of setbacks.’
The country’s vaccination campaign has lagged far behind expectations, with only about 9% of the population receiving at least a first shot and 4% receiving both doses by Sunday.
‘We don’t want our health system to be overloaded,’ Merkel said, noting that the new variant has caused severe illness also in younger people who are infected.
Meanwhile ministers in the Netherlands and Belgium have also warned that measures may have to get stricter as cases spike.
And in France thousands of fed-up people took to the streets of Marseilles on Sunday to flout lockdown rules – with protests also taking place in Germany, Holland, Austria, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Serbia and Poland.
The streets of Paris were also packed with spring sun-seekers yesterday despite the city going back into lockdown last week.
Europe’s third wave of Covid infections is gathering pace amid a woefully slow vaccine roll-out that has seen just eight per cent of its population given at least one dose – leaving the rest vulnerable to infection.
By contrast, the UK has given at least one dose to 40 per cent of its total population and more than half of adults, meaning it is slowly easing restrictions as Covid cases plateau and deaths fall.
That has led the EU to threaten to block jabs from coming to Britain in order to shore up supplies on the continent, with Germany and France supporting the move. A vote is due on Thursday.
In Germany, hard-hit areas are likely to see non-essential retail close from today with restrictions on dining, cultural and leisure facilities extended across the country.
‘Without significant restrictions, the number of new infections will increase to the point that the health system risks being overwhelmed by April,’ a draft of the document being discussed by ministers reads.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has threatened to join forces with the French and German governments to hold hostage more than 19 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to be shipped to the UK over the coming weeks
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are thought to be in favour of blocking vaccine shipments to the UK as Covid cases spike in their countries
Requirements that employees work from home whenever possible will be extended to April 18, according to the document, instead of ending on March 28.
To prevent any contagion at the workplace, companies will be required to provide at least two rapid tests a week to employees who are unable to work from home, it said.
With an eye on upcoming Easter school holidays, those who go abroad would be required to be tested and go into quarantine when they return to Germany.
Authorities also intend to bring in additional lockdowns at the local level.
Similar situations are also playing out in Belgium and the Netherlands, where cases have been rising sharply in recent days.
Frank Vandenbroucke, the Belgian health minister, said on Monday that he is ‘very worried’ about the current situation in the country and warned that easing measures after Easter as currently forecast in now in doubt.
At a meeting on Sunday, ministers agreed on additional measures to be imposed on schools if they are allowed to reopen in April as forecast.
Another meeting has been scheduled for later this week, and Mr Vandenbroucke has refused to rule out imposing yet more measures.
‘I am very worried. In the coming days we have to see what is happening and what we must do,’ he said.
Ministers in the Netherlands also met on Sunday to discuss a possible easing of lockdown measures, but concluded that ‘pressure on the system is too high’ to allow even a partial return to normality.
Reopening universities and outdoor dining, which had been due to kick in from March 31 will likely not take place, De Telegraaf reported.