© Reuters. Closed shop can be seen in Cologne
By Andreas Rinke
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany is extending its embargo until April 18 and is urging citizens to stay home five days during the Easter break to break a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said early Tuesday .
In talks that lasted late into the night, Merkel urged the leaders of Germany's 16 federal states to take a tougher stance on combating the pandemic and reversed plans for a gradual reopening of the economy that began earlier this month after a sharp increase in the infection rate had been agreed.
"We are now in a very serious situation," she said at a press conference, adding that Germany was in a race against time to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus.
Germany cautiously began easing restrictions earlier this month. However, the spread of more infectious variants of the virus has skyrocketed cases and raised concerns that hospitals may soon become overburdened without further restrictions.
The Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases stated that the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week was 107 on Monday and was thus above the 100 threshold, above which capacities in intensive care units become scarce. More than 3,000 people with COVID-19 were in intensive care beds on Sunday.
Economists said extending lockdown measures would delay a hoped-for recovery in Europe's largest economy from spring to early summer.
From April 1, the Germans should stay at home for five days and reduce contacts as much as possible. However, the late-night agreement did not include the closure of all stores, including important stores such as supermarkets requested by Merkel.
Large family gatherings are banned over the holidays, with no more than two households or up to five people being allowed to come together. The government will urge churches to hold all Easter services online to avoid gatherings.
The talks dragged on for hours as Merkel and the heads of state argue over whether restrictions on domestic travel should be relaxed during the Easter holiday season.
Germans can move around freely even amid the pandemic, but the country's hotels and resorts are not allowed to rent rooms to tourists. Therefore, traveling abroad remains the only option for those who are dying to go on vacation.
"We advise against all trips abroad," said Merkel.
The airlines are now responsible for ensuring that all travelers and crew members are tested for the coronavirus before departing for Germany, regardless of the infection rate in the country they have visited.
Merkel and the heads of state have, however, stopped imposing a mandatory quarantine on all returning travelers, a relief for holiday destinations such as Mallorca in Spain, which are betting on an upturn in the Easter travel business.
Germany reported an increase from 7,709 new coronavirus cases to 2,667,225 on Monday, according to the Robert Koch Institute. The reported death toll rose 50 to 74,714.
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