Germany extended its lockdown by three weeks Wednesday night while France and Italy are contemplating tighter Covid-19 restrictions in the face of new variants.
The German government also set out a five-step plan to gradually lift restrictions despite rising infections and a slow-moving vaccination drive.
“There are many examples in Europe of a dramatic third wave and this danger, we must not fool ourselves, is also a danger for us,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Under the plan, most lockdown measures will remain in place until at least the end of the month but some nonessential shops will be allowed to open from next week.
Further relaxations, including the reopening of shops, museums and outdoor dining, will be possible only in areas where infections are relatively low. The plan also foresees an increase in rapid testing, which will be obligatory to enter certain places such as outdoor dining or cinemas, depending on local infection rates.
Ms. Merkel’s government and state governors have been under growing pressure to lift restrictions but health officials continue to warn of a looming surge in infections. Most shops have been closed since December, restaurants and bars since November, and hotels can only lodge business travelers.
The plan includes an “emergency brake” mechanism to return to the current lockdown rules if infection rates rise again.
On Thursday, Germany’s public-health agency reported nearly 12,000 new cases, similar to a week earlier. The seven-day case average has stood at a little over 60 per 100,000 people lately, down from a peak of around 200 just before Christmas.
Italy’s new daily infections rose to 20,884 on Wednesday, the highest number in the past two months, according to the country’s Civil Protection Agency. Doctors blame the rise in new cases on the circulation of more virulent virus strains. Hospitalizations of Covid-19 patients, including in intensive-care units, are also rising.
The worsening outlook will likely prompt the Italian government to impose more restrictions on some regions, such as a ban on movement across towns and a complete shutdown of bars and restaurants, now open only part of the day.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex is due to hold a news conference later Thursday on whether the government will implement new restrictions.
With a vaccine rollout going slowly, AstraZeneca’s top executive in France, Olivier Nataf, said the number of AstraZeneca doses that have been administered in the country is rising quickly since primary-care doctors have been allowed to give the shot.