German states favour extending COVID-19 lockdown to boost Christmas prospects

FILE PHOTO: Manuela Schwesig Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania arrives for a meeting with German federal states governors about measures on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 17, 2020. Markus Schreiber/Pool via REUTERS

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is heading towards an extension of its "lockdown lite" for another three weeks to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and make family gatherings over Christmas possible, state premiers of the two governing parties said on Monday.

Germany closed bars, restaurants and entertainment venues on Nov. 2 for a month. Schools and shops remain open while private gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households.

Infection numbers have plateaued since then, but not declined.

Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, told a news conference there was a general agreement that current restrictions should be extended for about three weeks.

His conservative Hesse counterpart Volker Bouffier said he expects measures to remain in place until around Dec. 20.

The premier of the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Manuela Schwesig from the co-governing Social Democrats, told Deutschlandfunk (DLF) radio that "many states believe that the November shutdown must continue, especially in the risk areas."

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 10,864 to 929,133 over the last 24 hours, 40 more than the corresponding rise from the previous Sunday, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Monday.

State premiers and Merkel will discuss the measures as well as rules for the Christmas and New Year's holidays on Wednesday.

The new restrictions are likely to halve the number of people allowed at private gatherings to five, draft resolutions from both parties said.

Both drafts include proposals to allow the loosening of restrictions in states where infection rates decrease significantly.

Financial support for businesses could be extended into December, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier was quoted as saying on DLF.

Extended restrictions could lead to another economic decline in the fourth quarter, Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said. Europe's biggest economy had reported a strong rebound in the third quarter after two consecutive declines in the first and second.

(Reporting by Christian Goetz, Thomas Seythal, Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Heinrich)

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