BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Tuesday to extend the country’s pandemic restrictions until mid-February amid concerns that new mutations of the coronavirus could trigger a fresh surge in cases.
The country's infection rate has stabilized in recent days, indicating that existing restrictions may have been effective in bringing down the numbers. On Tuesday, Germany's disease control centre reported 11,369 newly confirmed infections and 989 deaths, for an overall death toll of 47,622.
However, surging infections in Britain and Ireland, said to be caused by a more contagious virus variant, had German officials worried that the mutation could also spread quickly there too if measures weren't extended or even toughened, prompting Merkel and the governors to bring forward a meeting previously planned for next week.
“All our efforts to contain the spread of the virus face a serious threat,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, citing the mutated version of the virus.
In addition to extending the closure of restaurants, most stores and schools until Feb. 14, officials also agreed to require people to wear the more effective FFP2 or KN95 masks on public transport and stores. They also want to require employers to let staff work from home if possible to avoid office-driven infections.
The governor of the eastern state of Saxony, which until recently had the highest rates on infection in the country, said it was important to drive the number of new cases down further.
“We're currently seeing in Britain what happens when a mutation occurs, when the numbers explode," he told news channel n-tv. “We can't remain at this level.”
Medical workers have been demanding an extension or toughening of the shutdown since many hospitals are still on edge, with intensive care wards overflowing in some areas.
“The current measures on limiting social contacts seem to be showing an effect,” Susanne Johna, the head of the physicians' association Marburger Bund, told the dpa news agency, adding that the measures should continue to be upheld to further reduce new infections.
“We urgently need further relief,” Johna said.
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Kirsten Grieshaber And Frank Jordans, The Associated Press