Germany mulls extending Covid-19 lockdown till mid-February

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BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – Germany will likely extend lockdown measures until at least mid-February and may impose a nighttime curfew in coronavirus hot spots.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers are due to decide on the latest strategy to stem the spread of the disease during a video call on Tuesday (Jan 19). The talks, originally planned for Jan 25, were brought forward after the German leader warned of the risks posed by variants that can spread more quickly.

With regional authorities responsible for health policy under Germany’s federal system, the discussions are a critical – and at times contentious – part of the country’s fight against the pandemic.

State leaders have regularly balked at Dr Merkel’s tougher stance, and resistance could grow as numbers come off peak levels and with officials wary of voter dissatisfaction ahead of state elections in March.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Sunday that current measures appear to be having an effect, but that more progress is needed, comments echoed on Monday by Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Mr Scholz, who is also Vice-Chancellor, warned that mutations could have a dramatic impact and said he expects the shutdown in place now, which includes the closing of schools and non-essential stores, to be extended to Feb 14.

“We must take further measures,” Mr Scholz said in an online interview with Bild newspaper. He raised the prospect of making it obligatory for companies to allow staff to work from home where possible.

Officials are considering a nighttime curfew, though this may only apply in areas where contagion rates are particularly high, Business Insider reported on Sunday, without identifying the source of the information.

People may also be required to wear FFP2 moulded face masks in stores and on public transport, it added. A government spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Dr Merkel and state leaders will be briefed by virologists and other health experts later on Monday. The chancellery will then draft a list of suggested measures ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

Europe has emerged as a global hot spot for the virus, with more than 401,000 fatalities and nearly 17 million infections. The region’s leaders are on high alert after more contagious variants of the disease were detected in Britain, Ireland and South Africa.

Germany’s death toll last Friday rose by more than 1,500 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Covid-19 fatalities have almost tripled since the end of November to almost 47,000, and cases have doubled to more than 2 million.

Despite the grim figures, there are signs that the strain is easing. The number of Covid-19 patients in Germany’s intensive-care facilities is down from peak levels by 10-15 per cent, Mr Spahn said on Monday.

“The numbers seem to be falling, but we’re still far from where we want to be,” he told ARD television, adding that Dr Merkel and state premiers will discuss work-at-home strategies and other ways to further reduce mobility.

Germany’s vaccination programme is also picking up after a slow start, with a high of more than 98,000 people getting a shot last Thursday. More than 1 million people have now been inoculated, according to the latest data from the health ministry.

Mr Spahn has pledged that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be able to do so by the summer, while cautioning that it will take months for it to have a tangible impact on Germany’s outbreak.

“It doesn’t make much sense to close schools, shops, public life if at the same time many contacts are still happening in private life,” Mr Spahn said at a news conference. “I know how difficult it is, especially after so many months. But it’s better to work together for the next two, three, maybe four weeks to bring the numbers down considerably.”

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