Germany is extending its coronavirus shutdown by three weeks until March 28, but easing some restrictions to allow nonessential stores and other businesses to reopen in areas with relatively low infection rates.
After about nine hours of talks, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of the country's 16 states agreed Wednesday to measures aimed at balancing concern over the impact of more contagious coronavirus variants with a growing clamour for a return to a more normal life.
The first moves have already been made: many elementary students returned to school last week. And on Monday, hairdressers opened after a 2 1/2-month break. Current lockdown rules were set to run through Sunday.
On Wednesday, Merkel and the state governors -- who in highly decentralized Germany have the power to impose and lift restrictions -- set out a phased plan that allows for some further relaxation of restrictions. Regions where infection rates are relatively low -- though not as low as previously envisioned -- will be able to open nonessential stores, museums and other facilities on a limited basis.