Merkel hints at lockdown extension as fatalities surge to record in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to regional leaders to stick to lockdown rules. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted that a hard shutdown that takes effect on Wednesday (Dec 16) will remain in force beyond January as the country's daily death toll jumped to a record 910 people.

Dr Merkel told lawmakers from her parliamentary caucus that Germany faces a new peak of Covid-19 infections next month and predicted that the first two months of 2021 will be particularly tough, according to a participant in the virtual meeting on Tuesday.

The nation is heading towards a seven-day incidence rate of 200 cases per 100,000 people, four times the level the government has determined to be manageable, she said.

Europe's biggest economy begins a strict lockdown on Wednesday, with non-essential stores closed, employers urged to shutter workplaces where possible and parents encouraged to keep children away from school.

As the restrictions take effect, fatalities surged to more than 900 in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, well above Friday's previous record of 604 and taking the total beyond 23,000.

The number of new cases rose by 21,456 to 1.38 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The seven-day incidence rate has risen sharply in the past few weeks and currently is at a peak of 180 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the RKI public health institute.

Officials have said the rate needs to come down to 50 and stay there to allow effective contact tracing.

As things stand, the stricter curbs will remain in force until Jan 10, but the Chancellor's comments on Tuesday suggest they will be extended after her next meeting with regional leaders in early January.

German law requires the government to reassess a nationwide lockdown every four weeks.

Dr Merkel, who was due to address the Lower House of Parliament later on Wednesday, told her caucus lawmakers that it's impossible to develop a long-term strategy to tackle the pandemic because there are still too many unknowns.

She appealed to regional leaders to stick to lockdown rules, warning that failure to do so would risk extending them even longer.

She said it's too early to tell when the pandemic will be over, dampening growing optimism that the expected European approval of a Covid-19 vaccine next week might quickly lower the number of new infections.

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