Madrid Desk, Jan 3 (efe-epa).- The German health minister has called for current lockdown measures in the country to be extended until the end of the month amid sustained high infection rates, while the Belgian prime minister said he would only consider easing current restrictions before March if the infection rate drops by at least half.
French authorities, meanwhile, have responded to mounting criticism of their vaccination rollout scheme by adding more population groups to the priority recipient list and boosting the number of vaccine points.
The German health minister, Jens Spahn, has called for restrictions in place in Germany since mid-December to be extended beyond their current January 10 deadline due to sustained high numbers of coronavirus infections.
Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder also spoke in favor of extending the restrictions until January 31 in statements to the Sunday edition of “Bild am Sonntag”.
The current measures, which in principle apply until January 10, aim to reduce the weekly incidence to 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, which is still far from the current figures being released by the Robert Koch Institute, currently at 140 per 100,000..
This represents a decrease from the figures of December 13, when the weekly incidence was 169 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, but is still well above the level considered “critical”.
Officials are also bracing themselves for the full effect of the holiday period on infection rates to be known.
RKI President Lothar Wieler had expressed fears that the holidays would contribute to an increase in the number of infections due to family gatherings, which in many cases involve travel across the country.
Virologist Melania Brinkmann, director of the Helmholtz Institute for the Study of Infectious Diseases, had also warned of the danger that family gatherings could represent during the holidays.
“There is a great danger. At Christmas we get together, we visit our relatives, and in January we have to expect infections to grow, as they did in the United States after Thanksgiving,” she said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Sunday that his government would consider relaxing restrictions against the coronavirus before March if the country drops below an average of 800 daily infections.
Current figures are more than twice that target.
“If the numbers go down further and we get below 800 infections a day, then something should be possible,” the liberal politician said in an interview with the Flemish newspaper “De Zondag”, when asked about a possible relaxation of measures before March 1.
At the “top of the list” of those who could return to work if that is the case are non-healthcare contact professions, such as hairdressers, said De Croo, who pointed out that other groups could be added to the list.
“Hospitality? We are investigating if it is possible. What I absolutely want to avoid is a yo-yo effect,” he said.
Since mid-October, Belgium has been enforcing a nightly curfew, restricting social contacts to a minimum, keeping the hospitality industry closed and making remote working mandatory. But most non-essential stores and museums have been open since December 1.
Faced with the possibility of two more months of restrictions, the prime minister said that the government’s goal is “to avoid a third wave” because this “will be even worse than the second”.
“I will say: we cannot manage a third wave,” he said.