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UPDATE 1-Merkel defends stricter lockdown powers as key to beating pandemic

Holger Hansen
·2 min read

* Emergency brake will become "mandatory" across Germany

* Night curfews to kick in above certain infection level

* Shops, zoos, theatres will also be banned from opening (Releads with Merkel, adds quotes, context)

By Holger Hansen

BERLIN, April 13 (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday her decision to seek temporary powers from parliament to enforce coronavirus lockdowns in areas with high infection rates was necessary for Germany to curb a third wave of the pandemic.

With infections rising rapidly in some areas, Merkel's government is pressing for a change to the Infection Protection Act to enable federal authorities to enforce restrictions under certain scenarios.

"For the situation to improve we need to stop the third wave, break it, and reverse it, and the measures to fight the pandemic need to be stricter," Merkel told a news conference after the cabinet approved the draft law.

According to the draft, a mandatory nationwide "emergency brake" will be introduced if the number of new infections per 100,000 residents in a district or city exceeds 100 for three consecutive days within a week.

The brake would include curfews between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., as well as limiting private gatherings to one household plus one other person.

All but essential shops will be required to close, while the opening of cultural and recreational facilities such as theatres, museums and zoos will be prohibited.

Schools will have to return to distance learning if the virus incidence rises above 200 per 100,000 for three consecutive days.

The bill must now be approved by the lower and upper houses of parliament. The change to the law will only apply until June 30.

Germany is grappling with a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 five months before a national election in which Merkel's conservatives are forecast to suffer major losses.

She and several regional leaders have called for tougher curbs to prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed, after some state leaders refused to impose agreed stricter measures even as new infections rose dramatically..

Merkel said the tougher measures, combined with a vaccination campaign that is slowly gaining steam after a sluggish start, will slowly lift Germany - Europe's largest economy and most populous country - out of lockdown.

"One thing is helping us enormously: As we prepare for those restrictions, the vaccination campaign is in progress and building momentum every day," said Merkel.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 10,810 and the death toll increased by 294, data from the Robert Koch Institute showed. The seven-day virus incidence per 100,000 rose to 140.9 from 136.4 on Monday. (Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)