Coronavirus: Germany extends lockdown measures amid rising case numbers

World wrap: Ukraine registers record daily high of Covid-related deaths

Berlin’s mayor Michael Mueller, German chancellor Angela Merkel and premier of Bavaria Markus Soeder. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Berlin’s mayor Michael Mueller, German chancellor Angela Merkel and premier of Bavaria Markus Soeder. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

 

Germany has extended its lockdown measures and imposed several new restrictions, including largely shutting down public life over Easter, in an effort to drive down the rate of infections.

German chancellor Angela Merkel announced coronavirus restrictions previously set to run until March 28th will now remain in place until April 18th.

Coronavirus infections have increased steadily in Germany as the more contagious variant first detected in Britain has become dominant, and the country’s daily number of cases per capita has passed that of the United States.

“We basically have a new pandemic,” Mrs Merkel told reporters in Berlin in the early hours of Tuesday.

“Essentially we have a new virus, obviously of the same type but with completely different characteristics,” she added.

“Significantly more deadly, significantly more infectious (and) infectious for longer.”

The weekly infection rate per 100,000 people stood at 107 nationwide on Monday, up from the mid-60s three weeks ago.

Officials agreed to largely shut down public life from April 1st to 3rd, adding a public holiday and shutting down most stores for the period. Public gatherings will be banned from April 1st to 5th, to encourage people to stay at home.

Amid concern over the rise in Germans travelling abroad on holidays, authorities also agreed on a blanket requirement for air travellers to be tested for Covid-19 before boarding a flight to Germany.

Mrs Merkel said Germany, which had comparatively low deaths during the first phase of the pandemic last spring, has seen “successes but also of setbacks” and insisted the situation would improve as more people get vaccinated.

Germany’s vaccination campaign has so far lagged behind expectations, with only about 9 per cent of the population receiving at least a first jab and 4 per cent receiving both doses by Sunday.

“It’s difficult for longer than we thought,” said Mrs Merkel, “but there’s definitely light visible at the end of the tunnel.”

Asked about the EU’s plans to restrict the export of vaccines and components, Mrs Merkel said she supported efforts by the bloc’s executive Commission to ensure contracts are fulfilled, citing the supply problems the EU has had with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Britain, which left the EU last year, has strongly protested against the plans, fearing it could get cut off from deliveries.

Mrs Merkel said she and French president Emmanuel Macron had each spoken to Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson about the issue in recent days and EU leaders would aim to reach a decision “in a responsible way” at a virtual summit on Thursday.

Ukraine

Ukraine registered a record daily high of 333 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, health minister Maksym Stepanov said on Tuesday.

The previous high of 289 deaths was on March 17th.

The former Soviet republic of 41 million people has been hit by a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks that prime minister Denys Shmygal has said is the third wave of the pandemic.

Stepanov said 11,476 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours. Ukraine has reported a total of 1,565,732 coronavirus cases and 30,431 deaths.

Last week new coronavirus infections spiked to 15,850 cases, the highest level in the Ukraine since November, prompting the capital Kyiv and several regions to impose a tight lockdown.

The lockdown echoes similar measures to be introduced by Lviv, the largest city in the west of the country, on Friday including closures of cafes, restaurants, non-food stores and a ban on public events.

Critics blame the pandemic surge in Ukraine on a lack of uniform nationwide lockdown measures and patchy compliance with social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

Denmark

Denmark will ease more restrictions next month and will end its lockdown entirely once all Danes over the age of 50 have been vaccinated by June, prime minister Mette Frederiksen has said.

Denmark will allow some businesses, including shopping malls and hairdressers, to open in stages next month, according to an agreement reached late Monday between the government and most parties in the country’s parliament. More children will also return to schools and restaurants will be allowed to serve outdoors.

Finland

Finland must extend its closure of restaurants and bars until April 18th to combat the spread of coronavirus, the government said late on Monday, adding that it will propose the measure to the country’s parliament on Tuesday.

Bars and restaurants were closed for customers but allowed to provide takeaway meals as part of a three-week lockdown scheduled to end on March 28th and aimed at curbing the rise of Covid-19 infections in the Nordic country.

The planned extension, a result of negotiations between parties in Finland’s majority government, is expected to obtain a majority in parliament.

Four regions will be exempt from the restriction however due to their epidemic situation being better, the government said in a statement.

While remaining among the countries least hit by the pandemic, Finland has since the beginning of February seen a rise in daily confirmed infections and now has more people hospitalised than at any other time during the outbreak.

According to the Finnish Health Institute, the nation of 5.5 million people has recorded 72,073 infections, 808 deaths and now has 306 people being treated in a hospital due to Covid-19.

China

Sinovac has said its Covid-19 vaccine is safe in children aged three to 17, based on preliminary data.

The company said it has submitted the data to Chinese drug regulators.

More than 70 million shots of Sinovac’s vaccine have been given worldwide, including in China.

China has approved its use in adults but it has not yet been used in children, because their immune systems may respond differently to the vaccine.

Early and mid-stage clinical trials with more than 550 subjects showed the vaccine would induce an immune response, said Gang Zeng, the medical director at Sinovac.

Two recipients developed high fevers in response to the vaccine, one a three-year-old and the other a six-year-old. The rest of the trial subjects experienced mild symptoms, Mr Zeng said.

“Showing that the vaccine is safe and would elicit a potentially useful immune response against SARS-CoV-2 is very welcome,” said Eng Eong Ooi, a professor at the Duke NUS Medical school in Singapore who is co-leading the development of a separate Covid-19 vaccine.

However, he said the data presented publicly by the company was not enough to give a conclusive answer on the findings.

Children are far less likely to be seriously ill with Covid-19, but they are still at risk and can spread the virus. And while vaccination campaigns worldwide have focused on adults, children will need to be immunised to end the pandemic.

The Pfizer vaccine is cleared for use starting at age 16 and is being studied in ages 12 to 16. Moderna has been studying its vaccine in children aged 12 and older and last week announced a new study testing its use in children younger than 12.

State-owned Sinopharm, which has two Covid-19 vaccines, is also investigating the effectiveness of its vaccines in children. The company said in January it had submitted clinical data to regulators, though it was unclear if it was for one or both vaccines. – Agencies