Coronavirus cases are rising exponentially in Germany, officials warn, as continental Europe braces for a third wave of infections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was likely that the country would now need to apply an “emergency brake” and re-impose lockdown measures.
France, Poland and other nations are also reintroducing restrictions.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that Europe lacks the vaccines needed to significantly reduce cases.
“We have to be honest about the situation – in Europe we don’t have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone,” he told reporters.
The vaccine rollout across the EU has been hindered by delayed deliveries as well as the suspension in several countries of the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, over fears of possible side effects.
On Friday, Ms Merkel defended Germany’s decision to temporarily suspend the rollout of the vaccine and said she did not believe its reputation had been damaged.
“I would get vaccinated with AstraZeneca,” the 66-year-old said, adding: “I would like to wait until it’s my turn.”
The increase in reported cases in Germany is said to be fuelled by outbreaks among younger people.
“The numbers are rising, the share of mutations is large and there are some fairly challenging weeks ahead of us,” Mr Spahn said.
Ms Merkel said she had hoped lockdown measures would not need to be reintroduced so soon after easing restrictions, but that “sadly” developments meant that it was looking unavoidable.
“We agreed that, should the seven-day incidence rate exceed 100 per 100,000 people in a region or state, we will go back to the restrictions which were in place until 7 March – we called it the emergency brake.”
Ministers are particularly concerned about the Easter holidays. They are urging people not to travel and to limit gatherings to immediate family.
Just 8% of Germany’s population has so far received a first dose of vaccine, although the government on Friday resumed the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
Vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Lars Schaade, warned of the possibility of “many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.
The RKI has said that cases in Germany are rising at a “very clearly exponential rate”. (Courtesy BBC)