Germany said on Tuesday it will impose a strict lockdown for five days over Easter as Covid-19 infections spiral “exponentially”, while a row over exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine festers in Europe.
Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the harsh nationwide measures after marathon talks with regional leaders, warning a potent strain of coronavirus was raging through the EU’s most populous country.
“The situation is serious,” Merkel said. “Case numbers are rising exponentially and intensive care beds are filling up again.”
A variant first identified in the United Kingdom has become the dominant strain circulating in Germany, the under-pressure leader said, adding that “we are in a new pandemic”.
“Essentially, we have a new virus… it is much deadlier, much more infectious and infectious for much longer.”
Cultural, leisure and sporting facilities will stay shuttered through to April 18, and a lockdown will come into force between April 1 and 5, as Christians celebrate Easter.
Almost all shops will be closed across the five days, and religious services will be moved online.
Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Monday that US trials showed its drug was 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease.
However, a spat is simmering between Britain and the EU over much-needed supplies of the jab, which is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals.
European officials are furious that the Anglo-Swedish heavyweight has been able to deliver its UK contract in full while falling short on its supplies to the EU.
Merkel on Tuesday threw her weight behind the bloc, which has threatened to ban AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the bloc from being exported unless it delivers more of the 90 million doses it agreed to supply in the first quarter of 2021.
“I support Commission President Ursula von der Leyen,” said Merkel.
“We have a problem with AstraZeneca,” she added.
On top of the quarrel over exports, public confidence in the company’s jab has tumbled after several countries suspended its rollout because of isolated cases of blood clots.
A survey by British pollsters YouGov showed that a majority of people in the biggest EU states view the vaccine as unsafe.
The EU’s medicines regulator and the WHO insist there is no evidence linking the drug to blood clots, and none was found in the large-scale trials in the US.