German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she had agreed with state governors to extend the country’s current lockout by three weeks until January 31.
Merkel said they were also tightening the curbs for social contacts, in line with measures introduced at the beginning of the pandemic in March. And they demanded new restrictions on movement for people living in areas with particularly high rates of infection.
The decision came when new coronavirus cases and deaths are running at stubbornly high levels, and officials are still unsure of the effect the Christmas and New Year holidays have had on the situation.
Germany launched a nationwide partial shutdown on November 2, closing restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities. It failed to reduce infection rates, and the current deadlock – which closed key stores and schools and further limited social contacts – took effect on 16 December. It was originally due to run until January 10.
Germany’s disease control center reported 944 more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, raising expectations that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors will extend the country’s detention until the end of the month.
Merkel’s meeting with governors on Tuesday will determine how long the shutdown will last and to what extent schools will resume. Another topic high on the agenda will be to address criticism of the country’s vaccination program amid frustrations over its gradual launch.
Slow start on vaccines
Vaccinations in Germany and the rest of the European Union with 27 countries began over a week ago. In Germany, a nation of 83 million, almost 265,000 vaccinations were reported on Monday, says the Robert Koch Institute.
Opposition politicians and even some within the German government coalition have criticized the EU’s cautious pre-order of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine – the only one approved so far for use in EU countries. The EU Medical Regulatory Authority is also evaluating a vaccine of Moderna.
The country’s health minister has repeatedly said that the vaccinations are going as expected and that the slow start is due to mobile teams first going to nursing homes to vaccinate the most vulnerable, which takes more time than inviting people to mass vaccination centers.
In a nod to the great pressure, Minister of Health Jens Spahn said that he has asked the country’s authority responsible for vaccinations if the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be delayed in order to vaccinate more people directly with a first shot. The UK has adopted such a plan with its vaccinations, but research and governments around the world are hotly debated.
Germany’s new infections remain at more than twice as much as 50 per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days, which the government wants to achieve. Partly due to lower tests and delayed reporting, it is not yet clear what effect the Christmas weekend will have on Germany’s new coronavirus infections, hospital stays and deaths.
Germany has reported a total of 35,518 virus-related deaths.