Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the measures early Tuesday after a lengthy video call with the country’s 16 state governors, nearly three weeks after the two sides last agreed on a plan to pave the way for easing certain rules.
Since then, infections have steadily increased as the most contagious variant first detected in Britain became dominant. The restrictions previously set until March 28 will now remain in effect until April 18.
Regions where the weekly number of new infections exceeds 100 per 100,000 population for three consecutive days will face stricter rules, as agreed at the previous meeting.
“Unfortunately, we will have to use this emergency brake,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
The weekly infection rate per 100,000 people stood at 107 nationwide on Monday, up from the mid-1960s three weeks ago.
Officials agreed to largely shut down public life from April 1-3, adding a public holiday and closing most stores for the period. Public gatherings will be banned from April 1-5 to encourage people to stay in their homes.
Amid concerns over the increase in the number of Germans traveling abroad on vacation, authorities also agreed to a general requirement that air travelers be tested for COVID-19 before taking a flight to Germany.
The development of legally watertight rules has sometimes proved to be a headache. A court in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, said on Monday it had overturned rules requiring people to get appointments to visit stores. He said he violated a requirement that companies be treated equally.
The state government quickly reinstated the rules, tightening them for some businesses – such as bookstores and garden centers – that were previously exempt.
According to Tuesday’s deal, authorities will aim to offer free tests to all students and teachers in German schools, many of whom have only recently reopened after months of distance learning.
Merkel said that Germany, which recorded a relatively low death toll during the first phase of the pandemic last spring, had “successes but also setbacks”.
The country’s immunization campaign has fallen far behind expectations, with only around 9% of the population having received at least one first vaccine and 4% receiving both doses on Sunday.
“We don’t want our health care system to be overloaded,” said Merkel, noting that the new variant has also caused serious illness in younger people infected.