Germany damps hopes for easing curbs as Covid-19 contagion rates rise

Germany's contagion rate rose to the highest level in more than a week on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - Germany needs to further slow the spread of the coronavirus before the government can consider additional steps to loosen restrictions on Europe's largest economy, the health minister said.

Children in 10 of Germany's 16 states are returning to schools and daycares for the first time in weeks on Monday (Feb 22), and authorities will need to evaluate the impact of the move before considering whether other curbs can be eased, Mr Jens Spahn said on Sunday.

"Once we have firm footing, we can take another step" after reopening schools and daycares, he said in an interview with ARD television.

Germany's contagion rate reached 61 per 100,000 people over seven days on Monday, the highest level in more than a week and the latest evidence that a steady decline since a peak before Christmas has ground to a halt.

The number of infections is still above the target of 50 that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has determined to be manageable.

Hairdressers are set to reopen on March 1 and further easing is tied to local seven-day incidence rates of less than 35.

Amid concerns about fast-spreading variants, Germany imposed border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria's Tirol province in mid-February. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer will seek to extend those measures this week, he told Bayerischer Rundfunk.

Despite concerns about mutations, Dr Merkel's government is under increasing pressure to present a path out of the lockdown amid criticism over the sluggish pace of the country's vaccine programme.

Mr Spahn pleaded for patience as the country seeks to strike a balance between easing strains on the pandemic-weary public and health risks from aggressive virus strains.

"I know everybody wants a three- and a six-month plan, but that's not possible," he said.

Germany's reproduction factor - or R value - rose to 1.25 on Sunday from 1.14 the day before, according to the latest report from the Robert Koch Institute, the country's public health authority.

The number means 100 infected people are estimated to spread the disease to around 125 others, and its recent rise is another sign that the slowdown in infection numbers has ground to a halt.

There were 6,094 new infections in Germany in the 24 hours through Monday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This compares with almost 50,000 at the peak of the pandemic.

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