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Germany's Merkel set to agree to cautious easing of COVID-19 lockdown

·2 min read

BERLIN, March 3 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel was poised on Wednesday to agree a gradual relaxation of coronavirus curbs with regional leaders, but the rules can be tightened again if infections jump, according to draft plans seen by Reuters.

Pressure is growing on the government to set out clear plans to restore normal activities after months of pandemic lockdown, even though daily cases have begun creeping up again and the pace of vaccination has been sluggish.

The draft plans say that from March 8 a maximum of five people from two households, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet.

Flower shops and book stores, garden centres, tattoo and nail parlours as well as massage salons will also be allowed to reopen on March 8, the draft shows. Hairdressers and some schools have reopened in recent days.

The tally of infections rose by 9,019 to 2,460,030 on Wednesday, an increase of more than 1,000 over last week, while the death toll rose by 418 to 70,881.

However, the number of cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days fell slightly, to 64 from 65.8 on Tuesday.

The latest draft plans obtained by Reuters provide for a tighter lockdown to be re-imposed if the number of cases rises above 100 per 100,000.

The government had targeted 50 cases per 100,000 before easing the lockdown, but was pressed to relax that as the national figure stagnated above 60, while deaths and the numbers of patients in intensive care fell.

However, Gernot Marx, head of the German association for intensive care and emergency medicine, continued to urge caution:

"It is important that we hold out for another three weeks because, by vaccinating many people, we can significantly flatten out a third wave, despite the virus mutations," he told the Augsburger Allgemeine daily.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/)

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)