German authorities are expected to extend lockdown measures again on Monday and possibly tighten some restrictions as they face a steady rise in new coronavirus infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions in the decentralised country, are holding a video conference nearly three weeks after they agreed a step-by-step plan paving the way to relax some rules.
Since then, infections have increased steadily as the more contagious variant first detected in Britain has become dominant.
Most lockdown restrictions are currently due to last until March 28. The chancellery is proposing an extension to April 18.
Rather than new moves towards a more normal life, one focus now is pressing regional officials to use an “emergency brake” mechanism under which relaxations granted in recent weeks – such as the partial reopening of non-essential shops – are supposed to be reimposed if new weekly infections in an area exceed 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days.
“Unfortunately, we will have to make use of this emergency brake,” Mrs Merkel said Friday.
The weekly infection rate per 100,000 people stood at 107 nationwide on Monday, up from the mid-60s three weeks ago.
Officials also face the question of what to do about Easter holidays.
Restaurants, bars and many leisure facilities in Germany have been shut since early November, and hotels closed for tourists.
At the same time, Germany’s criteria for assessing the virus situation abroad meant that a travel warning for parts of Spain was lifted earlier this month, prompting a much-criticised surge of bookings to the popular holiday island of Mallorca.
There have been calls for people returning even from places abroad that are not deemed “risk areas” to face obligatory tests and quarantine. The government has stressed that it continues to discourage tourist trips.
Meanwhile, Germany is trying to speed up its vaccination campaign after a slow start.
On Friday, Mrs Merkel and the state governors agreed to gradually bring on board ordinary doctors’ practices just after Easter. So far, Germany has largely relied on special vaccination centres.
As of Saturday, 8.7% of the population had received at least a first dose of vaccine and 3.9% had received both doses.