Germany sees new record in Covid deaths but vaccine boost gives hope

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Berlin, Jan. 8 (BNA): Germany's death toll and confirmed caseload in the coronavirus pandemic surged to new heights on Friday, as the country prepared for stricter lockdown measures, but a boost to vaccine availability provided for some hope, the Deutsche Presse-agentur (DPA) reported.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control reported 1,188 deaths over a 24-hour period, the highest daily count seen in the country yet.

The number of infections rose by 31,849, also one of the strongest increases so far.

Health Minister Jens Spahn highlighted progress in the mass vaccination drive under way in Germany and across the European Union.

"This is a good day in the battle against the pandemic," Spahn told dpa in Berlin, pointing to current deliveries of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine that allowed six doses to be drawn from each vial instead of just five.

He also noted that the second producer, the US company Moderna, would be able to make deliveries next week, and that a third vaccine was likely to be licensed soon.

In addition, production of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in Germany was due to start in Marburg next month. "That means: more vaccine, greater protection, less scope for the virus to attack," Spahn said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed they are determined to pursue a strategy of acquiring vaccines within a European framework and on the basis of a robust and fair allocation mechanism.

With the strength of the collective, he said in a phone call to Merkel according to the Elysee Palace, it would be possible to negotiate a diverse and safe portfolio of vaccines in significant quantities and at better prices.

Macron also raised these points in Friday evening's conversation with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who shared this stance, the Palace said.

According to the RKI's tallies, over 1.8 million people have caught the novel coronavirus in Germany, 38,795 of whom have died.

More than half of the entire death toll has been recorded since the start of December.

The government agency has warned that a lag in testing over the Christmas and New Year period may still be having an impact on the numbers.

Merkel has said that the true rate of infection in the country won't be clear until January 17.

Federal and state governments are striving to get infections back down to below 50 per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, so that overwhelmed local health authorities can resume tracking chains of infection.

That key metric currently stands at 136.5 for the whole of Germany, the RKI reported on Friday. In some hard-hit districts, concentrated mainly in the east, the rate is currently above 400 or even 500.

Germany has closed schools, non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, and leisure and cultural facilities under a lockdown that has been incrementally tightened since early November.

According to the latest RKI statistics, 476,959 have received the first of two doses of the vaccine, averaging out at around 40,000 vaccinations carried out per day in the country of 83 million.

The government has come under pressure to up the speed and order more vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech, but has argued that supply and production still need to catch up with demand.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Friday updated its guidance on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, allowing six instead of five doses to be administered from each vial.

"In practice, it has emerged that, due to the manufacturer 'overfilling' the vials, special syringes and needles can be used to extract six doses from the vials," the German Health Ministry explained.

The change could mean a 20-per-cent boost in available doses.