By Andreas Rinke and Caroline Copley
BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel wants "very fast action" to counter the spread of COVID-19 mutations, she told a meeting of top officials from her party on Thursday after Germany recorded a record number of deaths from the coronavirus.
Merkel also told the senior Christian Democrat officials that she wanted to bring forward a meeting with regional leaders planned for Jan. 25, and that tougher measures must be discussed, participants at the meeting said.
"The virus can only be stopped with additional efforts," the participants quoted her as saying.
While Germany's total deaths per capita since the start of the pandemic remain far lower than in the United States, its daily per capita mortality since mid-December has often exceeded the U.S. rate.
Germany's daily death toll currently equates to about 15 deaths per million people, versus a U.S. toll of 13 deaths per million.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 25,164 new coronavirus cases and 1,244 fatalities, bringing Germany's total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 43,881.
Mass-selling daily Bild reported that Merkel wanted to shut down public transport services, but participants at another meeting contradicted that and reported her as saying:
"We have to relieve the pressure on public transport by doing more home offices and thus reducing contacts."
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, ruling parties in the eastern state of Thuringia said they were postponing a regional election scheduled for April 25 until Sept. 26, the same day as this year's federal election.
Germany initially managed the pandemic better than itsneighbours with a strict lockdown last spring. But it has seen asharp rise in cases and deaths in recent months, with the RKIsaying people were not taking the virus seriously enough.
RKI president Lothar Wieler said on Thursday restrictionswere not being implemented as consistently as they were duringthe first wave and said more people should work from home,adding that the current lockdown needed to be tightened.
Germany introduced a partial lockdown in November that keptshops and schools open. But it tightened the rules inmid-December, closing non-essential stores, and children havenot returned to classrooms since the Christmas holidays.
Hospitals in 10 of Germany's 16 states were facingbottlenecks as 85% of intensive care unit bedswere occupied by coronavirus patients, Wieler said.
Only about 1% of the German population, or 842,455 people, has been vaccinated, the RKI reported.
Germany has recorded 16 cases of people with afast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the variant from South Africa, Wieler said, although he noted gene sequencing of samples was not being done broadly.
Wieler urged people who were offered a COVID-19 vaccinationto accept it.
"At the end of the year we will have this pandemic undercontrol," he said.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Caroline Copley, Emma Thomasson and Paul Carrel; Editing by Riham Alkousaa, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean, Nick Macfie and Dan Grebler)