Officials are urging vigilance to social distancing rules, or risk a return to lockdown.
Coronavirus infection rates are rising in Germany and France as lockdown rules are relaxed, new data revealed on Monday.
Germany is being closely watched worldwide as the most successful large European country in curbing the spread of the virus, partly thanks to a massive programme of testing, which has prompted a partial reopening of the economy. Merkel has frequently said the reproduction rate of the new coronavirus must be held below one to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
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But the Robert Koch Institute for public health said the rate hovered above this critical threshold for the third consecutive day, with an estimated value of 1.07 on Monday, after 1.13 on Sunday.
The latest number indicates that 100 infected people on average infect 107 others, meaning the number of new infections is accelerating again – which could signal the beginning of a second wave of the pandemic in Europe’s largest economy.
“The increase in the reproduction number R makes it necessary to observe the development very closely over the coming days,” RKI said in its daily report.
German officials say the estimated reproduction rate or “R” becomes more volatile as the overall number of infections declines, and a brief spike is not necessarily dangerous.
But Merkel, a physicist whose plain-spoken assessments have been held up as models of a scientific approach to the crisis, warned that it was crucial Germans stick to basic rules such as “keeping their distance, wearing mouth and nose protection and showing consideration for each other”.
Confirmed coronavirus cases increased over the latest 24-hour period by a relatively small number of 357 to 169,575, data showed earlier on Monday. The reported death toll rose by 22 to 7,417.
Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in France announced on Monday were almost four times higher than Sunday’s daily toll, while new confirmed cases more than doubled over 24 hours, as the country started unwinding an almost two-month national lockdown put in place to contain the spread of the disease.
These figures are bound to feed fears of a possible second wave of infections as the World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier “extreme vigilance” was needed in countries beginning to exit from lockdowns.
“It’s been back to work for some in France, but not back to normal,” said Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from the famed Champs Elysee in Paris.
“Many of the shops on this street are open, and even though it’s not busy, there are people out and about and enjoying a little bit of freedom – but the government says if people do not remain vigilant, it could consider reversing the lifting of restrictions.”
France’s health ministry said it registered 263 new deaths from the virus, compared with 70 on Sunday. In percentage points, the 1 percent rise is the highest in five days. But figures often tend to register a spike after the weekend lull.
France’s death toll since the outbreak now stands at 26,643, the ministry said, the fifth-highest in the world after those of the United States, the UK, Italy and Spain.
New confirmed cases of the disease were up 456, versus 209 on Sunday, bringing the total to 139,519. With the probable cases in nursing homes stable at 37,904, the total cases tally is up 0.3 percent at 177,423.
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