Spreading virus pushes German regions towards tougher lockdowns

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: People wear protective face masks as they walk beside Christmas decoration amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany inched towards tougher lockdown measures on Wednesday, with one regional premier promising a stricter course now that regions that had been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are seeing case numbers surge.

A partial lockdown that was imposed at the start of November was last week extended into December, and state and federal leaders are expected to discuss a further prolongation into January at a video conference due on Wednesday afternoon.

More than 17,000 new cases were reported overnight, and 487 deaths - a new daily record.

Michael Kretschmer, premier of Saxony, the most populous of the eastern German states, said his state would impose lockdown measures strictly given the speed at which the virus was spreading throughout the region.

"There are now restrictions on leaving home in almost the entire state," he told ZDF public television, adding that hospitals in the region were already seriously overburdened. "We need to act fast."

In the past, Germany's many regional and central government bodies have been at odds on how strictly to impose lockdown, since cases were concentrated in the south and west of the country.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel has always been in favour of stricter lockdowns, many of the regional premiers who have the final say in Germany's federal system were opposed. This is beginning to change.

Other than a few, mainly northern districts, the entire country is well above the rate of 50 new infections per 100,000 population per week that the government says is the fastest the virus can spread without overwhelming track and trace systems.

Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said more soldiers could be sent to join the 10,000 already working in public health authorities, where they are helping with efforts to track infections to slow the virus's spread.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams)