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Coronavirus: Germany tightens restrictions and Netherlands mulls curfew over variants fears

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on a face mask after a news conference on further coronavirus measures, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 19, 2021.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on a face mask after a news conference on further coronavirus measures, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 19, 2021.   -   Copyright  Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via AP
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Germany extended its COVID-19 lockdown on Tuesday over concerns about more transmissible variants with the Netherlands expected to follow suit on Wednesday.

The current German lockdown, in place since mid-December and expected to expire at the end of the month, has been extended by another two weeks to February 14.

This was decided during a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the head of the country's 16 landers on Tuesday afternoon.

"The number of new infections has decreased. That gives us hope. But the virus mutation carries a great danger. Now is the time to prevent this danger," Merkel told reporters after the meeting.

Non-essential shops, gyms and restaurants, as well as daycare centres and the majority of schools, will thus remain closed. Private gatherings remain limited to just one person outside the household.

Stricter mask requirements were imposed with medical-grade masks now mandatory on public transport and in shops. Face coverings, including fabric masks, were previously allowed.

The government is also upping pressure on employers to enable remote working.

The country's infectious diseases control centre (RKI) reported on Wednesday that nearly 16,000 new cases had been confirmed over the previous 24 hours. The death toll rose by 1,148 to 48,770.

The Netherlands mulls curfew

Across the border, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge wrote in a letter to parliament on Tuesday that the government will announce extra measures to tackle the spread of the virus on Wednesday afternoon.

The country's current tough lockdown is scheduled to end on February 9 and has led to a reduction in cases.

The Dutch public health institute announced on Tuesday that new infections decreased by 21.5 per cent over the past week to 38,776, in what it called a "moderately positive picture" of the effects of the lockdown.

But fears over the variants — which are up to 70 per cent more transmissible — have prompted the government to consider tighter restrictions, including a nighttime curfew.

Some 10 per cent of new infections are with the new variant and the public health institute and the institute said it expects that to rise to at least 50 per cent by mid-February.

Dutch efforts to tackle the virus have been complicated by the government's resignation on Friday over a scandal involving thousands of parents wrongly being labeled fraudsters by the country's tax office.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's four-party coalition remains in office in caretaker mode until a new government is formed after March 17 elections and will have to seek backing from lawmakers for any new measures.