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Germany extends and tightens COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to January 31

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By Emma Beswick
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A COVID-inspired decoration hangs above a street in Schwerin, Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.
A COVID-inspired decoration hangs above a street in Schwerin, Germany, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jens Buettner/dpa via AP
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel has extended and tightened the country's coronavirus lockdown as its death toll surpassed 35,000.

The leader made the announcement after meeting with the country's 16 state governors to decide on the length of a possible continuation and to what extent schools will reopen.

The state and federal governments agreed most non-food shops, bars, restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities and schools will remain closed, as well as new rules being brought in, Merkel said.

"We must further reduce our social contacts in order to fight" the pandemic, the Chancellor added.

The lockdown measures currently in place initially took effect on December 16, after a partial lockdown failed to calm case numbers, and were set to expire on January 10.

Now, under even tighter new rules, people in areas that are considered hotspots for the virus will not be allowed to travel over 15 km from their homes without a good reason.

And those arriving in the country that have come from a destination deemed to be high risk will have to provide two negative test results, with a mandatory five-day quarantine even in cases where the first test is negative.

The restrictions in meetings in private will be limited to one other person from outside the household.

On Tuesday, Germany’s disease control agency said 11,897 more coronavirus cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, up from 9,847 registered on Monday.

This puts the country fifth in a tally of COVID-19 infections in Western Europe, behind the UK, France, Italy, and Spain.

At least 944 deaths were reported on Tuesday, taking the official coronavirus death toll to 35,518, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

However, the agency said delays in reporting over the festive period could have affected the figures.

Vaccinations against COVID-19 kicked off in Germany on December 26 and, in the nation of 83 million, nearly 265,000 vaccinations had been reported by Monday, RKI said.

Germany has carried out a relatively fast vaccination rollout compared to many of the other EU27 member states.

But it has faced criticism that it has failed to procure enough vaccine doses to speed up the nationwide campaign amid the high infections and hospitalisations.

France, for example, inoculated just 516 people in the first week since the vaccine was delivered.

One reason for the delay is that France took a more cautious strategy to vaccinations, requiring a pre-vaccination visit and the express consent of the person being vaccinated, according to experts.

The EU bloc itself was also facing increased pressure to justify its COVID-19 vaccine plan, with member countries complaining about a lack of doses and a slow rollout.

Markus Söder, the minister-President of Bavaria - Germany's largest region - described the European Commission’s process for buying and approving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as "inadequate", in an interview with German tabloid Bild am Sonntag.

But Merkel said she supported the bloc's policy of securing vaccines for all 27 countries, adding it didn't make sense for Germany to try and get jabs on its own.

Along with the Netherlands, Germany is investigating delaying giving out second doses of its coronavirus vaccines in an effort to inoculate more people.

Two jabs are required for the highest-possible immunity - the European Medicines Agency (EMA) says the second dose should be given with six weeks of the first to ensure maximum protection.

But with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the only jab to have got EMA approval so far, offering short-term efficacy from the first dose, some scientists have suggested a longer gap between doses.