Germany extends partial shutdown well into December

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors have agreed to extend a partial shutdown well into December in an effort to further reduce the rate of coronavirus infections ahead of the Christmas period

Germany embarked on a so-called “wave-breaker” shutdown on Nov. 2, shutting restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities but leaving schools, shops and hair salons open. It was initially slated to last four weeks.

Merkel said the measures will now be extended until Dec. 20, with a goal of pushing the regional number of new cases per week below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants.

“I remain convinced (…) that we have to continue to pursue this goal,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Merkel said that existing measures have succeeded in halting an upward surge in new coronavirus infections — though they have stabilized at a high level, rather than sinking back to levels at which authorities feel contact-tracing efforts can be successful.

“We can’t be satisfied with this partial success,” she said.

Merkel noted that Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 410 deaths linked to COVID-19, the highest single-day total yet.

“(This) reminds us in the saddest way that behind the statistics are human fates,” she said.

The Robert Koch Institute also reported 18,633 new cases over the past 24 hours — compared with 17,561 a week earlier.

The government also plans around 17 billion euros ($20 billion) more in aid to compensate businesses hit by the shutdown, following more than 10 billion euros this month.

Germany, which has 83 million people, was credited with a relatively good performance in the first phase of the pandemic. It still has a lower death rate than several other European countries, and its current shutdown has been relatively mild.

Germany has reported a total of 961,320 virus cases since the pandemic began, including 14,771 deaths.

Merkel expressed hope that the arrival of the first vaccines in coming weeks would help turn the corner on the pandemic.

“A lot indicates that 2021 will bring us relief,” she said.

The country’s disease control agency released a new version of its contact tracing app Wednesday that includes reminders for people to share positive test results with people they were in close proximity to.

The app had been downloaded 22.8 million times by Friday. Its decentralized, privacy-focused design has been copied by several other European countries.

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