Merkel Warns of Virus Mutants as Tougher Curbs Take Effect

Germany’s new lockdown law, which automatically imposes tougher curbs in places where new infections exceed a certain threshold, came into effect on Saturday after both houses of parliament backed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bill.

Merkel’s ruling coalition pushed the legislation through after her government failed to find common ground with regional leaders on measures needed to fight the pandemic. The law -- which expires at the end of June -- triggers tighter restrictions in virus hotspots, including nighttime curfews and closing schools and non-essential stores.

“This is something new in our fight against the pandemic and I am convinced it is urgently needed”, Merkel said in her weekly podcast, published on Saturday. “We are in the middle of the third wave. The more contagious variant of the virus has also taken hold in Germany.”

The renewed surge in infections threatens to overwhelm some intensive-care units in Germany. The number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs has been rising steadily since mid-March, threatening to surpass the peak seen in January. Latest figures show there are 5,005 patients in ICUs as of Saturday, down slightly from 5,037 the day before.

Tough Measures

The tougher rules apply in counties and cities where the so-called seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 per 100,000 people on three consecutive days. The nationwide seven-day incidence rate rose to 164.4 on Saturday, the highest in five days. Only some areas in Germany’s more sparsely populated north are currently below that threshold.

“The measures envisaged by the emergency brake are tough,” Merkel said. “That’s why no one has taken this lightly.” Anyone caught breaking the curfew faces a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($30,200), Germany’s Bild-Zeitung reported on Saturday, citing Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Ministry spokesman Carsten Dehner.

A dangerous new variant of the virus that appeared in India and spread to the European Union has officials worried. India reported a record 346,786 new infections on Saturday, bringing its total to 16.6 million.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told Funke Mediengruppe that the country will declare India a virus variant area, which will allow only Germans to enter from that country under strict testing and quarantine rules. The regulation will apply from Monday, 00:00 hours German time, Spahn told Funke.

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