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Germany agrees easing of COVID-19 curbs, more testing and vaccinations

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders have agreed a phased easing of coronavirus curbs along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers spike again.

With elections looming, Merkel and the regional leaders have faced growing pressure to set out plans to restore normal activities after four months of lockdown.

However, daily cases are creeping up again and only around 5% of the population have received a first vaccine shot.

“We are at the threshold of a new phase of the pandemic that we can go into not carelessly but still with justified hope,” Merkel told reporters on Wednesday after what she described as “tough negotiations” with the regional chiefs.

The leaders agreed to use the full length of the approved interval between first and second vaccinations and to minimise stockpiling of booster shots to get more people started on the two-shot course.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommends giving Pfizer and BioNTech’s injections three weeks apart and AstraZeneca’s up to 12 weeks apart.

They also said they expected a decision soon from Germany’s standing committee on vaccination on administering the AstraZeneca shot to over-65s, “in order to be able to adjust the vaccination schedule accordingly”.

Germany currently only allows the AstraZeneca vaccine to be given to people aged 18 to 64, which has led to a low take-up of available doses, slowing vaccination efforts.

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