BERLIN, March 23 — Germany said 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 European Union’s (EU) 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.
Globally, the coronavirus crisis that first emerged in China in December 2019 has killed more than 2.7 million people and infected over 123 million, according to official data collated by AFP.
Vaccination drives are seen as crucial to overcoming the pandemic and navigating countries out of brutal restrictions that continue to paralyse economies around the world.
More than 430 million jabs have now been administered globally, mostly in wealthier nations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday slammed the “grotesque” vaccine gap, calling it a “moral outrage”.
“Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries,” he said.
Britain on Tuesday marks the anniversary of its first coronavirus lockdown with a “National Day of Reflection”, which will see parliament hold a minute’s silence in tribute to the more than 126,000 people who have died.
The country ranks fifth in the world for both virus cases and deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the last year has “taken a huge toll” and called the anniversary “an opportunity to reflect on the past year — one of the most difficult in our country’s history”.
The country’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) has been under huge strain, and on Tuesday a painting by UK street artist Banksy is expected to raise millions of pounds for health workers.
The artist left a note with the painting thanking hospital staff for their work battling the pandemic.
“Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens up the place a bit, even if it’s only in black and white,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, a study released on Monday showed children who are 10 and younger produce more antibodies in response to coronavirus infection than adolescents and adults.
The authors of the paper, which appeared in JAMA Network Open, said the finding helped illuminate why children are less susceptible to severe Covid-19 than adults — though this is still an area of very active research and many factors are believed to be at play.
© Agence France-Presse