Germany plans gradual reopening as lockdown extended for two weeks

Frankfurt, Germany, Apr 15 (efe-epa).- Lockdown measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Germany, currently in place until April 19, will be extended by at least two weeks, chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday, although some restrictions, including the closure of small shops and schools nationwide, will be gradually lifted.

Germany has been all but paralyzed since mid-March when all non-essential businesses were closed as authorities tried to stem the outbreak of the Covid-19 disease, which has killed 3,528 people in the country and infected more than 132,500, the fourth highest in the world.

The extension was agreed at a video conference Merkel held with the prime ministers of Germany’s 16 states on Wednesday.

“We need to understand that we will need to live with the virus as long as there is no medication or vaccine,” Merkel said as she explained why social distancing measures and travel restrictions would remain in place.

She said that mobile phone apps were being developed that would help detect “infection chains” and trace them to their source as part of a more targeted approach to containment.

The chancellor also thanked citizens for respecting the guidelines and avoiding leaving their homes unless necessary, saying their adherence and participation was a crucial factor in containing the deadly virus.

Although some shops under 800 square meters will be allowed to reopen starting Monday, the number of people allowed inside would be limited, while Merkel said her government “strongly recommends” the use of face masks in indoor spaces and on public transport until at least the end of the month.

She will meet on April 30 with the country’s regional leaders to discuss a potential further relaxation of the measures, although Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and other leading political figures have urged against lifting the restrictions too soon, fearing a second wave of infections if the measures are removed.

Before the video conference, government spokesperson Steffen Seibert had emphasized the positive impact the restrictions had had in reducing the number of coronavirus cases, but also urged caution in the coming days and weeks.

“The path over the next few weeks is a narrow one between careful gradual easing and maintaining progress in the fight against the pandemic,” he said, while the Health Ministry has also reminded Germans that they are “only at the beginning of the epidemic,” as only 1.5 percent of the country’s population has been infected.

There is still no vaccine, with clinical trials not expected to start until the second half of this year.

Spokesperson for the Health Ministry, Hanno Kautz, said Wednesday that some 80 million medical masks had been bought and would be made available to the public in due course. EFE -EPA


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