Germany will extend its coronavirus restrictions until April 18 and enter a strict lockdown for five days over Easter in a bid to halt soaring infection rates, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday morning after marathon talks with regional leaders that ran deep into the night.
As well as extending existing measures that have closed cultural, leisure and sporting facilities, Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers agreed a tougher lockdown for the Easter holidays between April 1 and 5.
“We are now in a very serious situation,” Merkel told a news conference, adding that Germany was in a race against time to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus.
Germany’s national disease control centre has warned new infections are growing exponentially as the more contagious COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom has also become dominant within its own borders.
The Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases said the number of cases per 100,000 population over a week stood at 107 on Monday, above the 100 threshold at which intensive care units will start running out of capacity. More than 3,000 people with COVID-19 were in intensive care as of Sunday.
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder said the new variants had increased the risk of the pandemic.
“We are probably now living in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic,” Soeder told journalists in Berlin.
Under the Easter restrictions, almost all shops will be shut during the five-day period and religious services will be moved online. Grocers will be the only shops allowed to open on Saturday, April 3. Easter falls on April 4.
Germany started cautiously easing restrictions earlier this month, amid growing weariness over the continued curbs and protests among some people.
On Friday, the health minister Jens Spahn warned there were not enough vaccine doses in Europe to contain a third wave of COVID-19. The distribution of the vaccine has been disrupted by supply problems as well as the suspension of the AstraZeneca jab.