Germany looks to loosening lockdown as COVID-19 cases fall

FILE PHOTO: Residents in the western German city of Cologne wait in line to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - Parts of Germany are eyeing a loosening of lockdown restrictions as the number of new cases fell nationwide on Wednesday, though infection rates remain high in some of the 16 federal states.

Confirmed new coronavirus cases in Germany rose on Wednesday by 18,034 to 3,451,550, but that 24-hour figure was 4,000 lower than a week ago, and the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people dropped to 132 from 141 on Tuesday, the lowest in three weeks.

Legislation passed last month enabled the federal government to impose night-time curfews in areas where cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days, and even stricter curbs where cases go above 165 per 100,000.

Three of Germany's states are now under the key threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 - Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein - while three others are getting close - Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The southern state of Bavaria said on Tuesday it would allow outdoor dining to resume from May 10 in areas where the incidence is under 100, and allow the tourism sector to reopen from May 21, when that part of the country has school holidays.

The state of Lower Saxony has also agreed easing the rules for restaurants, tourism and retail for areas under 100.

Health Minister Jens Spahn called on the states to give priority to opening outdoor activities so as not to risk a new wave of infections.

On Tuesday, Germany's cabinet agreed to ease restrictions on people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, a decree which could come into effect at the weekend.

After a sluggish start, the pace of vaccinations has been picking up in Germany and the number of people with coronavirus needing intensive care treatment in hospital has begun to fall.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, writing by Emma Thomasson, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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