BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states to extend and tighten measures against the coronavirus until at least Dec. 20 and they are likely to extend them into January, she said on Wednesday.
“This is absolutely not the time to sound the all-clear,” she told journalists, after the number of deaths from the virus reached a daily record.
However, rules will be eased over the Christmas holidays to let families and friends celebrate together.
Germany imposed a month-long “lockdown lite” on Nov. 2 to rein in a second wave that is sweeping much of Europe. Bars and restaurants are closed, but schools and shops remain open.
From Dec. 1, private gatherings will be limited to five people. Over Christmas, that number will rise to 10, not counting children, though Wednesday’s decisions included an appeal to avoid social contact for a week ahead of family visits.
“This must not be a lonely Christmas for people in vulnerable groups,” she said.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 18,633 to 961,320, daily data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday, 5,015 less than the record increase reported on Friday.
However, the death toll jumped 410 to 14,771, up from 305 a week ago, and just 49 on Nov. 2, when the partial lockdown came into effect.
“The exponential growth of infection numbers has been stopped, the steep curve has been turned into a flattened curve,” Merkel said. “But we cannot be content with this partial success,” she added.
Berlin’s mayor said a quarter of the German capital’s intensive care beds were currently filled with COVID patients, most of whom were on ventilators to help them breathe.
Financial support for businesses that have had to close under the partial lockdown will be extended into December.
Merkel and state leaders stuck with a commitment to keep schools open but said additional measures could be taken for older children in regions where infection numbers were high.
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(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Paul Carrel, Joseph Nasr, Thomas Escritt, Kirsti Knolle; Writing by Maria Sehahan; Editing by Toby Chopra, Emma Thomasson, Nick Macfie, Peter Graff and David Gregorio)