Germany extends lockdown to Feb 14 on fears of Covid-19 variants
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers agreed on Tuesday to extend a lockdown for most shops and schools until Feb. 14 as part of a package of steps to try to rein in the coronavirus.
They also agreed to mandate medical masks, rather than simple cotton ones, on public transportation and in stores. The existing lockdown runs until Jan. 31.
"Now is the time to take preventive measures against the threat of this virus," Merkel told reporters after a meeting with the premiers of Germany's 16 federal states.
New infections have been decreasing in recent days and pressure on intensive care units has eased slightly, but virologists are worried about the possible spread of more infectious variants of the virus.
Merkel said all countries in Europe must make similar efforts to fight the pandemic. Otherwise, Germany may consider restricting border entry to avoid highly transmissible strains being brought in from abroad.
She and the state leaders also agreed that companies must allow employees to work from home until March 15 where possible, Merkel said.
Aid for hard-hit companies is to be improved, and retailers' writedowns on seasonal goods - which could include winter coats or ski equipment - will be taken into account.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen by 11,369 to 2.05 million, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The death toll was up 989 to 47,622.