Germany extends Covid lockdown amid concern over variants in Europe | World news

Germany has extended and tightened its national lockdown despite slowly declining case numbers and the Netherlands and Denmark are expected to follow suit as concern mounts about new, more contagious variants of Covid-19.

The chancellor, Angela Merkel, and leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed to extend the country’s lockdown on Tuesday until 14 February with new rules also making it mandatory to wear medical masks in shops and on public transport.

In a digital summit, the leaders agreed to carry over current restrictions introduced in November, when restaurants and leisure and sporting facilities were closed, with schools and non-essential shops following in mid-December.

A new rule will ban people from wearing homemade cloth masks or scarves as face coverings in shops and on trains and buses, instead mandating the use of “clinical masks”. This includes single-use surgical masks as well as filtering facepiece respirators, known as FFP2 masks in Europe or N95 respirators in the US.

Covid deaths in Germany graph

Variants first seen in the UK and South Africa risked reversing a recent downward trend in infection numbers, said Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Experts suggested Germans were not taking calls to stay at home seriously: data showed overall mobility was down only 15% compared with this time last year.

Denmark may also have to extend its lockdown measures beyond early February – despite a fall in infections – because of the British variant, the prime minister said on Tuesday.

The government already extended the lockdown for three more weeks last week, saying it expected the variant to be the dominant strain by mid-February. “If we don’t contain the pressure, we may risk an exponential increase in infections,” Mette Frederiksen said.

Under Denmark’s current measures, restaurants, bars and non-essential shops are closed and public gatherings limited to five people. A 2-metre distancing rule is in force in public areas, including shops.





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A woman receives the coronavirus vaccine in Aalborg, Denmark, on Monday. Photograph: Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters

The Dutch government, which resigned last week but is staying on in a caretaker capacity until elections planned for mid-March, said it would announce new measures on Wednesday amid media speculation that it planned to announce a curfew and further localised restrictions.

The French health minister, Olivier Véran, said the virus was still circulating at a “worrying” level but stopped short of recommending a third national lockdown, saying France’s nationwide 6pm curfew was sufficient for now.

In Spain, Valencia – which like the rest of the country has been under a state of emergency since the end of October and subject to an overnight curfew – was set to announce tougher action amid a surge in Covid cases.

Although the central government declared the national state of emergency, regional governments are responsible for responding to the virus in their own territories. Last week, Galicia banned all non-essential travel in the seven largest cities, ordered bars and restaurants to close at 4pm, and brought forward a curfew to 10pm.

La Rioja closed non-essential businesses at 5pm and limited group meetings to four people, while shops in Cantabria were banned from opening at weekends. Spain reported a record rise in infections over the weekend, with the response to the virus complicated in Madrid and many other areas by record snowfall.

As EU nations struggle to roll out their vaccination programmes, the idea that richer areas should get a bigger share of Covid vaccines sparked outcry in Italy. The proposal came from Letizia Moratti, the health chief of the wealthy northern region of Lombardy.

Writing to the government’s coronavirus crisis commissioner, Moratti said vaccines should be allocated to regions based not only on population density, but also on GDP, local impact of the pandemic and levels of mobility.

“It is not about giving more vaccines to richer regions … but in helping Lombardy’s recovery you would automatically help the recovery of the whole country,” she said. Lombardy – which already has received the largest share of doses on account of being the most populous region – would tick all Moratti’s boxes.

The health minister, Roberto Speranza, quickly dismissed the idea, saying everybody had a right to be vaccinated “regardless of the wealth of the place where they live” and health was a constitutionally guaranteed public good, not a privilege.

As Russia said its second vaccine, a candidate shot known as EpiVacCorona, was “100% effective” in early stage trials, the European commission was set to urge member states to target vaccinating at least 70% of the bloc’s population by the summer, according to a draft of the latest recommendations.


The EU’s executive arm will also seek agreement among member states by the end of January on a protocol for vaccination certificates that could replace quarantines and test requirements, proving people were “no longer high-risk for travel”.

An independent panel reviewing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global response to the pandemic concluded the WHO was underpowered and underfunded and must be reformed to give it the resources to be more effective.

“We are not here to assign blame, but to make concrete recommendations to help the world respond faster and better in future,” the panel’s co-chair, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said on Tuesday, a day after its interim report was issued.

On Monday the panel said Chinese officials could have applied public health measures more forcefully in January 2020 to curb the initial Covid outbreak, and criticised the WHO for not declaring an international emergency until 30 January.

As evidence emerged of human-to-human transmission, “in far too many countries, this signal was ignored”, the panel added.


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