Germany heading towards extension of hard lockdown

·2-min read

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government and the country's 16 federal states have agreed to extend a strict lockdown until Jan. 31 in an effort to bring coronavirus infections under control, Bild newspaper reported on Monday, without providing a source.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state premiers are scheduled on Tuesday to discuss a possible extension of the lockdown beyond Jan. 10. Some, including Bavaria's premier Markus Soeder, have already spoken in favour of an extension.

Speaking after the Bild report, a government source told Reuters: "All but two federal states support (a lockdown extension until) Jan. 31. However, the formal decision will be made on Tuesday."

Germany was more successful than many European countries in keeping the coronavirus in check during the first wave in the spring but has seen a surge in new infections since the autumn.

It imposed a second hard lockdown on Dec. 16, closing schools, shops and restaurants after a partial lockdown introduced in early November did not bring the hoped-for reduction in new infections.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, which has a total population of around 83 million, increased by 9,847 to 1.76 million in a day, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 302 to 34,574.

The situation in Germany's hospitals has become "extremely difficult", a government spokesman told a news conference on Monday.

The federal states will take the decision on when and how schools will reopen, the education ministers agreed on Monday.

They recommend a three-step procedure, which would see the first six grades return first, flexible teaching times for pupils from the seventh grade in a second step and a broad return to classrooms in a third step.

Like other European Union countries, Germany started vaccinating its population against COVID-19 in late December, but officials and media have expressed frustration with the slow rate of progress.

Only 265,986 people had received a first shot by Monday, according to the RKI. This compares with more than a million people in Britain, which approved the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech earlier than the EU and also began innoculating with Oxford University and Astrazeneca's vaccine on Monday.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, Kirsti Knolle; editing by Thomas Seythal, Maria Sheahan and Gareth Jones)