BERLIN (Reuters) -Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday called on Germans to stick to tighter coronavirus restrictions imposed in areas with high infection rates over the weekend, saying the step was needed to break a third wave of infections.
Both chambers of parliament approved the amendments to the Infection Protection Act earlier this week to give the federal government more powers to fight the third wave in the pandemic.
Merkel drew up the law after some of the 16 federal states refused to implement tougher measures despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and in defiance of a lockdown agreement reached in March.
"This is something new in our fight against the pandemic. And I am convinced that it's urgently needed," Merkel said in her weekly video podcast.
"It serves the goal of first slowing down the third wave of the pandemic, then stopping it and finally reversing it."
Like many other European countries, Germany is struggling to contain an aggressive third wave of cases, with efforts being complicated by the more contagious B117 variant, which first emerged in the UK, and a relatively slow vaccination start.
To stop the spread of other variants, Germany has classified India as a new coronavirus "high incidence area" due to the number of infections there, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Friday.
People returning to Germany from high incidence areas must register with the authorities before travelling and then quarantine for 14 days on their return.
"In order not to endanger our vaccination campaign, travel to India must be significantly restricted," Health Minister Jens Spahn told Funke media group.
From Monday, Germans coming from India will only be allowed to enter the country with a negative test result and then go into quarantine while foreign travellers coming from India will no longer be allowed to enter, Spahn said.
If the number of infections goes down in the coming weeks, systematic testing will help to enable a controlled and sustainable loosening of restrictions, Merkel promised.
"And our vaccination campaign, it's gaining momentum. It is the key to overcoming the pandemic," the chancellor added.
"I am convinced that if we can now manage to reduce infections significantly and quickly, we will be able to relax them step by step in the foreseeable future," Merkel said.
"Let us now do what is necessary again and together show each other respect and responsibility," she added.
The new law enables the government to impose curfews between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in areas where the virus incidence exceeds 100 cases per 100,000 residents on three days in a row. The rules include stricter limits to private gatherings, sport and shop openings.
Schools will have to close and return to online lessons if the virus incidence exceeds 165 cases per 100,000 residents on three days in a row.
Factories and offices remain open, with employers expected to enable most employees to work from home and to offer frequent coronavirus tests for those who cannot work remotely.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 23,392 over the past 24 hours to 3,268,645, data from RKI showed on Saturday. The nationwide seven-day average of cases per 100,000 people stood roughly unchanged at 164.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber, editing by Clelia Oziel and Jason Neely)