Germany extends coronavirus lockdown, imposes stricter mask rules

Germany’s lockdown was extended until February 14 and stricter mask rules were imposed for people in shops and on public transport, as Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the country must “act now” to prevent Covid-19 case numbers from spiralling.

A document drawn up by Merkel’s government and the 16 state premiers described the coming weeks as “crucial,” citing the threat posed by new variants of coronavirus that are more infectious than the original.

“Now is the time to prevent the threat posed by this mutated virus. So it’s about prevention,” Merkel said at the end of the hours-long talks between state and federal leaders.

Individual cases of a more highly contagious coronavirus variant which emerged in Britain have been found in Germany, but health authorities say they still do not have a complete picture of how widespread it is in the country.

Germany has closed schools, non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, and leisure and cultural facilities under a lockdown that has been incrementally tightened since early November.

The measures also ban people from meeting with more than one other person from another household.

The restrictions had been due to expire at the end of the month, but have now been extended to at least February 14.

Additionally, it was decided Tuesday that people will be required to wear higher-quality medical masks, such as FFP2 respirators, which protect the wearer as well as others, unlike other mouth-and-nose coverings.

Employers must in future also allow their employees to work from home wherever the activities permit. The regulation is to apply until March 15.

“It’s tough what we have to put people through again, but the precautionary principle is our priority, and we have to take it into account now, and we have taken it into account today,” Merkel said.

Merkel also mentioned Germany’s roll-out of coronavirus vaccines, which has come under criticism for its speed and planning.

She said by the end of the summer it should be possible to offer every resident a vaccination.

All residents of nursing homes who want the vaccine should get it by mid-February at the latest. Almost half have already been vaccinated, according to the statement of resolution issued by Merkel’s government and the states.

More than 2.05 million people have caught the coronavirus in Germany so far, 47,622 of whom have died, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder said that despite the threat posed by new strains, there were signs of reasons to be optimistic.

He noted that health authorities reported 11,369 new infections on Tuesday. Exactly one week ago there were 12,802 new infections.

The German Association of Cities greeted the new measures. The organisation’s president, Burkhard Jung, told dpa: “More talk about loosening restrictions and opening things back up would give people false hope at the moment. We now need one more great joint effort in the fight against the pandemic in order to break the wave of infections. ”

Jung, who is mayor of the city of Leipzig, said additional measures were necessary.

He said more people ought to work at home or have fewer contacts at work; people ought to try to come into close contact with fewer people; and people ought to use masks more effectively on public transport and while out shopping.

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil urged businesses to let more people work from home. Employers needed to be clear about where this was possible and where not, he said.

Source: GNA

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