German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Germany’s partial coronavirus lockdown is set to stretch into January – and could become significantly tougher if conditions do not improve – said federal and state leaders on Wednesday after their latest meeting on the pandemic.

In an effort to control the spread of the disease, the country has been under a partial lockdown since November 2. That will now be extended until January 10.

Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the premiers of the country’s 16 states had pushed the end date back to December 20.

The partial lockdown means restaurants, clubs and cultural institutions are shut down and most shops have strict limits on the number of customers they can admit at any one time.

Schools are operating and people are not restricted to their homes, but have been urged to limit social interactions.

Some municipalities have implemented their own stricter versions of the rules because of quickly growing local case counts.

“In principle, the situation is going to stay the way it is,” said Merkel after the videoconference, noting that Germany is “very far away” from manageable case number counts.

Authorities want to push the seven-day count of new cases down to around 50 cases per 100,000 people. Currently, the figure hovers around 135 cases per 100,000.

The meeting came as the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s infectious diseases agency, reported 487 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, a record for Germany.

Health authorities are seeing a slight slowdown in the spread of the disease, but have cautioned that a partial lockdown can only accomplish so much. Beyond that, authorities are worried about numbers spiking if people choose to travel great distances to visit family for the Christmas holiday at the end of the month.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder said Germany’s leaders might have to consider toughening the lockdown rules.

“The question is whether we can keep the country in this kind of semi-consciousness – or if we don’t have to consider at some point taking a tougher and more focused approach in some areas.”

Germany has not reached that point yet, he said.

“But my sense is – and a lot of citizens are asking me – that we can’t shy away from this and, in the end, we will have to be forceful, and maybe be very forceful once than be somewhat forceful for a longer time.”

Merkel also said they were preparing a vaccination programme, with an eye on starting the process towards the end of December.

Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer had warned earlier on Wednesday that further measures would be taken if the situation does not improve.

“Then we will not be able to open the kindergartens after Christmas. Then the schools will be closed longer. Then we will have to talk about whether the stores will be closed for a certain period of time,” Kretschmer said on Instagram in response to citizens’ questions.

“It depends very much on all of us sticking to the measures, because the alternative would be a real complete lockdown and a ban on going outside. We want to prevent that at all costs,” Kretschmer said, warning of the economic costs of such a response.

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