Germany extended its lockdown measures by another month and imposed several new restrictions, including largely shutting down public life over Easter, in an effort to drive down the rate of coronavirus infections.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the measures early Tuesday after a lengthy video call with the country’s 16 state governors, nearly three weeks after the two sides last agreed on a 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. The restrictions previously set to run through March 28 will now remain in place until April 18.
Regions were the weekly number of new infections exceeds 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days will face tougher rules, as agreed at the previous meeting.
“Unfortunately, we will have to make use of this emergency brake,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
Officials agreed to largely shut down public life from April 1-3, adding a public holiday and shutting down most stores for the period. Public gatherings will be banned from April 1-5, to encourage people to stay at home.
Amid concern over the rise in Germans traveling abroad on holidays, authorities also agreed on a blanket requirement for air travelers to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to Germany.
Drawing up legally watertight rules has proved a headache at times. A court in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, said Monday it struck down rules requiring people to get appointments to visit shops. It said they violated a requirement that businesses get equal treatment.
The state government promptly reinstated the rules, tightening them for some businesses — such as bookshops and garden centers — that were previously exempt.
According to Tuesday’s agreement, authorities will aim to offer free tests to all students and teachers in German schools, many of which have only recently reopened after months of remote teaching.
Merkel said Germany, which had comparatively low deaths during the first phase of the pandemic last spring, has seen “successes but also of setbacks.”
The country’s vaccination campaign has lagged far behind expectations, with only about 9% of the population receiving at least a first shot and 4% receiving both doses by Sunday.
“We don’t want our health system to be overloaded,” Merkel said, noting that the new variant has caused severe illness also in younger people who are infected.