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World News

Germany to tighten COVID curbs but no national shutdown - Merkel

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will restrict the size of gatherings and fine people who flout tracking rules in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus over autumn and winter, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, September 23, 2020. Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS/Files

The restrictions would be targeted, as a further shutdown of the whole country needed to be avoided “at all costs”, she said after a conference with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states, adding that keeping the economy going was a priority.

By European standards, Germany has experienced relatively low infection and death rates so far during the pandemic, but Merkel said cases could hit 19,200 per day if current trends continued.

The country reported 2,089 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 287,421, with 9,471 fatalities, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said.

“We have learned a lot and got through the summer well but we know a more difficult time lies ahead - autumn and winter - and a gradual rise, in some areas a significant rise in infections, is cause for concern,” Merkel told reporters.

She said a “hot spot strategy” would limit private parties to 25 people and public ones to 50 in areas where the infection rate hit 35 per 100,000 over seven days.

If the rate hit 50 per 100,000, private celebrations would be restricted to 10 people and those in public to 25.

The German economy contracted by 9.7% in the second quarter as household spending, company investments and trade collapsed at the height of the pandemic. Merkel’s government has launched various stimulus measures, financed with record new borrowing, that it and economists expect will help engineer a significant return to growth during 2021.

“We want to act regionally, specifically and purposefully, rather than shutting down the whole country again - this must be prevented at all costs,” said Merkel.

Infections have been rising in Germany for weeks but state premiers have been at odds on what action is appropriate, partly because of regional variations in cases.

Merkel said other priorities were for schools and nurseries to stay open. People who gave false identities to restaurants would be fined 50 euros ($59) and work would be done to improve ventilation in buildings over the winter.

($1 = 0.8521 euros)

Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Madeline Chambers and Thomas Escritt; Writing by Paul Carrel and Madeline Chambers; editing by John Stonestreet

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