Germany extends lockdown, but seeks way out with testing and jabs

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Berlin, Mar. 4 (BNA): Germany's coronavirus lockdown will be extended until March 28, but Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers have agreed to options for opening up depending on infection rates.


After hours of negotiations on Wednesday, they agreed to a step-by-step reopening strategy with emergency brakes built in should infections rise again - as well as a focus on ramping up mass testing and vaccination, dpa reports.


Contact restrictions will be slightly eased from Monday, with each household allowed to gather with another household up to a limit of five people plus children under 14.


If infection rates drop, contact restrictions will be further relaxed.


Book shops, flower shops and gardening stores will be able to reopen across the country with hygiene conditions in place. They are already open in some states.


Further limited reopening of activity will already be allowed in regions where the seven-day incidence does not exceed 100 new infections per 100,000 people.


The next steps after that hinge on the seven-day incidence not getting any worse for 14 days, and would see outdoor dining, cinemas and theatres open up. It would also allow contact-free sport indoors and contact sports outdoors.


Vaccination and testing will play a key role, and Merkel announced a significant acceleration in the vaccination campaign.


"We know that we're in a race against time," she said.


Some 200,000 jabs are currently being given daily, German leaders said in a paper released after negotiations.


But from the second week in March, selected doctors will get a fixed framework to undertake vaccination.


In late March or early April, general practitioners and specialist doctors will also take part in the vaccine campaign as the number of available doses rises.


The number of doses held for second jabs will be reduced, meaning more people can be reached more quickly.


A short-term decision on extending the use of the AstraZeneca jab for over-65s is also expected from the country's Standing Committee on Vaccination.


The public will be able to get at least one quick coronavirus test per week free of charge from March 8, Merkel said.


The tests show "with good accuracy whether someone is infectious on a daily basis," she said.


Merkel said Germany was on the threshold of a new phase of the pandemic, and should go into it "not carelessly, but with justified hope."


She noted there were many examples of a "dramatic third wave" in Europe, and that Germany must move to take reopening steps that will not take the country backwards in its progress.


But she emphasized a note of hope compared to the same time last year, when the pandemic first hit.


"Spring 2021 will be different to the spring of a year ago."