BERLIN – Germany extends its lockdown until April 18 and asks citizens to stay home for five days during the Easter holidays to try to break a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. early.
In talks that dragged on well into the night, Merkel pressured the leaders of Germany’s 16 states to take a tougher stance to combat the pandemic, reversing plans for a gradual reopening of the economy agreed to earlier this month. after a sharp increase in the infection rate. .
“Now we are basically in a new pandemic. The British mutation has become dominant,” Merkel told a news conference.
“Basically, we are dealing with a new virus of the same type but with very different characteristics. More lethal, more infectious and infectious for longer.”
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Germany began cautiously easing restrictions earlier this month. But the spread of more infectious variants of the virus has increased cases, raising concerns that hospitals will soon be overloaded without further restrictions.
The number of cases per 100,000 people for a week stood at 107 on Monday, above the level at which intensive care units will be overwhelmed. More than 3,000 people with Covid-19 are in intensive care.
Britain on Monday demanded that the European Union allow delivery of the Covid-19 vaccines it ordered as tensions rose over a possible export ban on injections made in the EU and Brussels pointed an accusing finger at the manufacturer of AstraZeneca vaccines.
After falling far behind Britain and the United States after Brexit in vaccine deployment, EU leaders are due to discuss a possible ban on vaccine exports to Britain at a summit on Thursday.
“We have a known problem with AstraZeneca,” Merkel said, adding that she supported the European Commission. “We will decide responsibly.”
For five days from April 1, Germans should stay home and reduce contacts as much as possible. But the overnight deal did not include the closure of all stores, including essential stores such as supermarkets, that Merkel had requested.
Large family gatherings will be prohibited during the holidays, and no more than two households or up to five people will be allowed to gather. The government will ask churches to conduct Easter services online to avoid gatherings.
Economists said the extension of Germany’s lockdown measures would delay a long-awaited recovery in Europe’s largest economy from spring to early summer.
The talks had dragged on for hours as Merkel and state leaders disagreed on whether to ease restrictions on domestic travel during the Easter holiday season.
Germans can travel freely even in the midst of the pandemic, but the country’s hotels and resorts cannot rent rooms to tourists. That leaves traveling abroad as the only option for those desperate to go on vacation.
“We advise against traveling abroad,” Merkel said.
Airlines will now be responsible for ensuring that all travelers and crew are screened for coronavirus before departing for Germany, regardless of the infection rate in the country they have visited.
But Merkel and state leaders fell short of imposing a mandatory quarantine on all returning travelers, a relief for holiday destinations like Majorca Spain, which have a boost from the Easter travel business.
Merkel said Germany was in a race against time to vaccinate its population before new variants of the coronavirus appeared. About 9 percent of Germans have received at least one injection of the vaccine, but the rate of vaccination is expected to increase next month.
“Things are tough for longer than we expected, but there is a very clear light at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel said.