BERLIN (Reuters) - Social distancing measures in Germany will be extended until May 10, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff said ahead of a high-level meeting on Thursday to review coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Helge Braun said Merkel and state government leaders will discuss plans to reopen schools and nurseries and resume sports events, but wait until May 6 for data on what effects the first steps to ease the lockdown have had before moving again.
“The contact restrictions will certainly now be extended until May 10 for the time being,” Braun told broadcaster n-tv.
Germany, Europe’s largest and most pivotal economy, began easing its lockdown last week when some shops were allowed to open provided they practised strict social distancing. But Merkel and government advisers are worried about the coronavirus infection rate rising anew.
German news agency DPA reported that museums, exhibitions, memorials, zoos and botanical gardens would be able to reopen if they can meet requirements to minimise the risk of contagion. A 10 million euro ($10.88 million) fund would help museums carry out any modifications needed.
It was unclear from which date this would be applied and in some states, such as Berlin, gardens and zoos are already open.
Focus magazine reported that church services would also resume.
The virus reproduction rate in Germany is currently estimated at 0.76 on average, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Thursday. That marked a dip from 0.96 earlier this week.
A number of 0.76 means that, on average, 100 people infected with COVID-19 infect 76 other people. This would mean the number of new infections would come down over time.
Nonetheless, RKI President Lothar Wieler told a news conference: “I can only warn you all not to be too lax with this virus, not to underestimate it.
“This virus has a number of characteristics that I do not want to expose to anyone - neither to myself nor to my children, to put it bluntly,” he added.
The education ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states agreed on Tuesday that schools would slowly reopen classes for all grades by the summer holidays, although pupils would have to work and learn in smaller groups.
Late on Wednesday, Christian Drosten, virologist at Berlin’s Charite hospital, pointed to the results of a study he led that indicated “viral loads in the very young do not differ significantly from those of adults”.
“Based on these results, we have to caution against an unlimited reopening of schools and kindergartens in the present situation,” the study concluded. “Children may be as infectious as adults.”
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has risen by 1,478 to 159,119, RKI data showed earlier on Thursday. They showed 6,288 people have died of the disease, a rise of 173 compared to Wednesday but still well below the death tolls of European peers like Italy, Britain, Spain and France.
Editing by Michelle Martin and Mark Heinrich