Germany will extend lockdown efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic for three more weeks till March 7, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 federal state leaders decided on Wednesday.
According to the decision paper published following a video conference, the restrictions tackling the spread of the virus, which are due on Feb. 14, will extend to March 7.
More restrictive measures will be relaxed only when the seven-day incidence rate is stable at 35, which means that 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the decision paper. When the figure is reached, businesses, museums and galleries are able to reopen.
The seven-day incidence rate fell to 68 on Wednesday from the highest point of 198 on Dec. 22, according to Germany's federal disease control agency Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
Germany imposed a partial lockdown from the beginning of November, and then tightened restrictions in the middle of December as new infection numbers soared.
Although the number of daily new infections is dropping from over 30,000 to less than 10,000 right now, Merkel and other officials are worried about the highly infectious virus variants.
"It will get the upper hand. The old virus will go away. We are going to live with a new virus. And we cannot yet assess this new virus and its behavior," said Merkel at a press conference after the meeting.
Merkel said that the mutated virus was "a reality" and the question was not if, but how fast it was spreading. Yet the measures were showing results and the rate of new infections was slowing.
A total of 8,072 infections were confirmed by the RKI on Wednesday, bringing Germany's total caseload so far to almost 2.3 million. The death toll rose by 813 to reach 62,969.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in some countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.
Meanwhile, 242 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 63 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Feb. 9.