Germany considers tougher shutdown as virus variants fuel fears

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states are expected to extend and tighten a partial lockdown beyond January on Tuesday, as fears grow about the strains of the virus believed to be more contagious.

Germany closed restaurants, recreation and sports facilities in November, then extended the closure to mid-December to include schools and most stores in an effort to halt the rampant growth of new coronavirus infections.

Measures ordered until the end of January resulted in a “flattening of the infection curve,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said, also pointing out that the number of patients in intensive care had also dropped slightly.

“This trend is cautiously positive and a success of the restrictions of the past few weeks,” he said.

“But that only gets us to the point where we still have a long way to go before we can say that we have the infections under control,” he added.

The virus variants first seen in Britain and South Africa also posed major risks as to whether the downward trend in infections could continue, Seibert added.

Crisis talks between Merkel and state prime ministers have been brought forward by a week due to variants of the virus.

“This is a risk that politicians need to take into account – as soon as possible,” he added.

– Work at home –

Germany did relatively well in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, but a second wave hit Europe’s largest economy hard.

The new infections have greatly exceeded the incidence threshold of 50 per 100,000 people set by the government. And last Thursday the country saw a new record for daily deaths, at 1,244.

Seibert noted that the incidence rate was still over 130 per 100,000 and that Germany “needed to get faster” down to 50.

He would not be drawn to specific measures that could be decided on Tuesday, but said discussions would focus on “issues such as working from home, medical masks, public transport – not the complete halt of transport public but on the reduction of contacts “.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier last week launched a joint appeal with representatives of unions and employers’ federations, urging companies to have staff work from home “whenever possible”.

More could be done to keep non-essential workers out of office and public transport, they said.

Experts have been alarmed by data showing that while a first stop in the spring of last year led to a steep 40% drop in mobility, this winter many more people appear to be on the move.

Disease control agency Robert Koch Institute and Humboldt University Berlin discovered from data collected from mobile phone signals that last Wednesday the mobility of Germans was only 15% lower than that of ‘one year ago.

RKI chief Lothar Wieler called for rigorous implementation of the curbs that have already been ordered, saying there were too many exceptions offered.

In northern Germany, authorities were planning to take more drastic measures against people who break quarantine rules.

The Schleswig-Holstein State Ministry of Justice is turning a juvenile detention center into a forced quarantine site for those who do not self-isolate when required.

hmn / dlc / dd

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