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Germany to impose 'emergency brake' law across country

Germany's new "emergency brake" rules for areas with high Covid-19 infection rates, intended to curb the spread of the virus, will come into force Saturday, Health Minister Jens Spahn said. They will affect almost the entire country. The controversial new law gives the national government power to impose lockdowns on states for the first time, ending the patchwork of state-by-state measures.

The federally imposed shutdown will affect almost all of Germany, with only a few municipalities having low enough levels of transmission to avoid the restrictions.

Spahn's announcement Friday, at a Health Ministry news conference in Berlin, came a day after the bill passed the upper house of Parliament.

The law enables Germany's government to impose curfews between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time, as well as limiting private gatherings, sports and shop openings, in all areas registering more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in one week. Schools will close and return to online lessons if the virus incidence exceeds 165 cases per 100,000 residents.

The latest data puts Germany's new infection rate at 164 per 100,000 residents.

The new law sparked protests from opposition parties in parliament and in the capital, Berlin, where hundreds took to the streets.

It came into effect as Germany reached its highest number of new Covid-19 infections since January.

Speaking at the same news conference Friday as Spahn, Lars Schaade, deputy head of Germany's health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), said that "infection numbers are still too high" but that "coronavirus case numbers do not appear to be rising as fast."

Spahn added that Germany's vaccination campaign was now gathering pace. "One in four Germans will have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by early May," he said.

As of Friday, 18.5 million people had been vaccinated, according to Spahn. Around 22% of Germans have now received a first coronavirus vaccine dose and nearly 7% have received their second shot. Germany has a population of about 83 million.

Spahn said Thursday he expected to offer coronavirus shots to all adults from June.

On Friday, Germany recorded 27,543 new coronavirus infections -- a rise of 1,712 cases compared to the same day last week, according to RKI data. The country's coronavirus deaths stood at 265 within the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally of deaths to 81,158.

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