Merkel under pressure: Civil war erupts over lockdown – Berlin risks 'long lasting damage'

The German Chancellor was urged to return the country to normal as soon as possible despite concerns it could be smacked by a third wave of coronavirus infections. Finance minister Olaf Scholz and economy chief Peter Altmaier led the chorus of criticism against Berlin’s slow lifting of restrictive measures. Their furious outcries came after Germany announced it would extend its lockdown to March 28 because of the high number of cases.

The number of coronavirus cases in Germany went up by 3,943, according to figures released on Monday by the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

Mr Scholz called for mass testing to be rolled out across the country in order to facilitate the reopening of its economy.

He said increased testing “must have an impact on what is possible in terms of moves to open up”.

The social democrat candidate to succeed Mrs Merkel as chancellor added: “It’s not going to happen all at once, but there must be a step-by-step process that everyone can understand.”

And Mr Altmaier told a business conference: “The longer the lockdown lasts, the bigger the risk that Germany’s economy will suffer long-lasting damage.”

After Berlin put the brakes on reopening the country, Mrs Merkel insisted on a “buffer” period to allow for cases to fall.

The Chancellor decided coronavirus infections would have to fall to a seven-day average of 35 per 100,000 people before moving forward.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Germany currently has a rate of around 123.

The current infection figures remain high as Germany struggles to rollout Covid jabs across its population.

Its sluggish scheme has only delivered 6.39 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to around 7.42 percent of its population.

With Germany’s vaccine campaign moving slowly, the country’s expert panel on jabs is poised to U-turn on a recommendation against not using the AstraZeneca jab for over-65s.

Thomas Mertens, head of the STIKO vaccine committee, said: “There will be a new updated recommendation very soon.”

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He said: “The situation is unstable and the numbers are rising again.”

Michael Kretschmer, leader of the Saxony region, added: “We should not lose our nerve now.”

He insisted moving too quickly could spark a third wave of infections.

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