Coronavirus testing center in Germany
Coronavirus testing center in Germany Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors on Wednesday agreed to extend a partial shutdown until at least December 20, in an effort to further reduce the rate of COVID-19 infections ahead of the Christmas period, The Associated Press reported.

Germany embarked on a so-called “wave-breaker” shutdown on November 2, closing restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities but leaving schools, shops and hair salons open.

The partial lockdown was initially slated to last four weeks but will now be extended with a goal of pushing the number of new coronavirus cases in each region below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants per week.

“We have to continue to pursue this goal,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, adding that while existing measures have succeeded in halting a surge in new coronavirus infections, they have stabilized at a high level.

“We can’t be satisfied with this partial success,” she said. “(This) reminds us in the saddest way that behind the statistics are human fates.”

Germany’s disease control agency on Wednesday reported 18,633 new cases over the past 24 hours — compared with 17,561 a week earlier.

Germany has reported a total of 961,320 virus cases since the pandemic began, including 14,771 deaths.

Earlier this week, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country could start administering shots of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as next month.

“There is reason to be optimistic that there will be approval for a vaccine in Europe this year. And then we can start right away,” he told publishing group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland in an interview.

Spahn said that he had asked Germany’s federal states to have their vaccination centers ready by mid-December and that this was going well.