BloombergMerkel Imposes Radical Easter Lockdown to Check Covid Surge(Bloomberg) — Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders agreed to put Germany into hard lockdown over Easter to try to reverse a “third wave” of Covid-19 infections fueled by faster-spreading mutations.Under the radical plan, all stores will be shuttered from April 1 for five days, except for food stores which will open on April 3, Merkel said after a video call with the country’s 16 state premiers that lasted more than 11 hours. Citizens will be encouraged to remain at home, private gatherings limited to one other household and a maximum of five people, and public meetings banned.“We are now in a very, very serious situation,” Merkel said at a news conference that started just after 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Berlin. “The case numbers are rising exponentially and intensive-care beds are filling up again,”she said, adding that the number of infections must come down to allow the country’s vaccination campaign to start taking effect.Germany’s Covid-19 incidence rate has nearly doubled in the past month, threatening to overwhelm hospitals and highlighting Europe’s struggles to contain the pandemic.Merkel and the regional leaders also agreed to extend Germany’s current lockdown measures until April 18. These include the partial closing of non-essential stores and the shutdown of hotels, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues.Merkel reiterated an urgent appeal for citizens to avoid unnecessary domestic and international travel. A plan to push ahead with a cautious reopening of Europe’s biggest economy, agreed at the start of this month, was postponed.The chancellor and the state premiers agreed to meet again on April 12 to decide on how to proceed with the partial lockdown, which has effectively been in place for about four months.The latest steps by Merkel’s increasingly embattled administration are a blow to pandemic-weary Germans. Opinion polls suggest they’re becoming more and more disgruntled with the government’s handling of the crisis just six months ahead of September’s national election.Amid stuttering vaccination programs across Europe, lockdowns have been reimposed in Italy and France in the past week. Austria on Monday canceled plans to further re-open the economy around Easter after surging cases threatened to overwhelm some hospitals.The European Union has administered doses covering 6.4% of the population, less than a third of what the U.K. has managed, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.Cases in Germany are rising again after authorities began to relax restrictions in late February and set out a plan to gradually unwind the remaining curbs.The Robert Koch Institute health agency reported on Monday that the national seven-day rate of infections per 100,000 people rose to 107.3. After dropping to 56.8 on Feb. 19, the figure exceeded the so-called “emergency brake” level of 100 for a second straight day.The provision allows authorities to tighten lockdown measures, and although the threshold has been crossed in ten out of 16 states, many have opted not to take action.The impact of the resurgent pandemic is reverberating through the economy. Germany aims to borrow 240.2 billion euros ($286 billion) this year, officials said earlier Monday. It’s taking on just over 60 billion euros more debt than initially planned as it boosts spending to support lockdown-hit companies and fund increased testing and other measures.Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will propose suspending constitutional borrowing limits for a third straight year when he presents a draft 2022 spending plan alongside his supplementary 2021 budget on Wednesday, they added.Scholz, who is running as the chancellor candidate for the Social Democrats in September’s national election, is targeting net borrowing of 81.5 billion euros in 2022, the officials said.Scholz has consistently argued that Germany can afford to spend freely to support the economy thanks to years of budget discipline. He points out that debt as a percentage of output will still be the lowest among the Group of Seven nations.Meanwhile, what Merkel termed the “third wave” of the virus appears to be gathering pace, spurred by faster-spreading Covid-19 mutations.Intensive care units risk being overwhelmed within a few weeks if exponential growth in cases continues, health experts have warned. On Monday, the number of Covid-19 patients in German ICUs rose to 3,136, the highest in more than a month.“We want to avoid our health system becoming overburdened,” Merkel said. “We have managed that throughout this long pandemic journey and we have to manage that in the coming weeks.”(Updates with details on lockdown)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.