Germany has extended its lockdown for three weeks, imposing an almost complete halt over the Easter holiday in response to a third wave of coronavirus infections.
After talks with regional leaders Chancellor Angela Merkel said current measures would remain until 18 April.
Restrictions will be even tougher from 1-5 April, when most shops will be shut and gatherings will be limited.
Mrs Merkel said Germany was now in a “very serious” situation.
“Case numbers are rising exponentially and intensive care beds are filling up again,” the chancellor told a news conference on Tuesday.
Coronavirus infections have been surging across Europe in recent weeks as countries scramble to vaccinate their populations despite delays in rolling out jabs.
The infection rate has risen above 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany. A further 7,485 infections have been reported in the past 24 hours as well as 250 deaths.
In other developments:
- French hospitals have admitted another 471 patients into intensive care in 24 hours, and another 15,792 cases have been reported
- The head of the French hospital federation, Frédéric Valletoux, says the numbers are “exploding” and hospitals are likely to be hit in the next two to three weeks by a “wave of unprecedented violence”
- Denmark’s political leaders have agreed a further easing of its lockdown, with more children going to school from 6 April and hairdressers opening up again
- The Czech Republic says 25,000 people have now died with Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, but infections are well down on a week ago.
Announcing the new restrictions after marathon crisis talks with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states, Mrs Merkel said the highly contagious UK (Kent) variant of coronavirus had become dominant in Germany, plunging the country into what she called “a new pandemic”.
“Essentially, we have a new virus,” the German chancellor said. “It is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer. ” Germany was in a race against time to roll out vaccinations against the coronavirus, she added.
Tuesday’s lockdown extension marks a reversal from earlier this month, when state leaders agreed to begin a cautious reopening process.
What are the new measures?
Existing measures, such as the closure of sporting facilities, will remain in place until 18 April.
Then, for five days over Easter from 1 April, Germans are being asked to stay at home and reduce contacts:
- In-person religious services are cancelled
- Big family gatherings are banned, with no more than two households, or up to five people, allowed to meet
- All shops are shut, apart from food shops on Saturday 3 April.
An “emergency brake” will halt further re-openings in areas where infections exceed 100 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.