ANGELA Merkel may be forced to extend Germany's coronavirus lockdown by at least another month as it battles a deadly third wave, according to reports.
It comes as the Chancellor was rocked by a chorus of criticism from doctors and politicians for halting jabs with the "life saver" AstraZeneca vaccine.
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The Chancellor has a series of crisis meetings lined up this week to discuss an alarming surge in cases and the vaccine chaos.
Experts warned infections are growing "exponentially", up 20 per cent in a week as Covid restrictions are gradually eased.
Schools reopened earlier this month and people are now allowed to meet in small groups.
But the reopening of non-essential shops and museums has already been delayed by three weeks until March 28 because of fears of a third wave.
The Robert Koch Institute for public health has now declared Germany is officially in the grip of a third wave, with infections set to rocket by Easter to higher than the peak after Christmas.
It has prompted the federal and state governments to consider a further four-week delay in the next step to lift lockdown, reports Business Insider.
Mrs Merkel will decide the course of action at an emergency summit with the powerful state governors on Thursday.
Their response will partly depend on updates on the shambolic vaccine program – which the Chancellor will discuss in separate emergency talks with health chiefs.
It hit yet another setback yesterday when Germany joined a dozen EU nations in suspending use of the AstraZeneca jab.
The European Medicines Agency said today it has no evidence the jab has caused blood to clot. Agency chief Emer Cooke repeated that the benefits massively outweigh the risks.
But ministers will not meet until Friday to decide whether to reopen empty vaccine centres.
Mrs Merkel and health minster Jens Spahn were savaged for the decision to halt jabs.
Experts say it destroys trust and could set the country back by months.
Eugen Brysch of the German Foundation for Patient Protection fumed: "This is how trust is lost.
“Trust is a shy deer. That's the damage. And the damage is very, very great.”
Green party health spokesman Janosch Dahmen called the suspension "negligent", and said it was “the next wave of shock” for confidence in the federal government's Covid policy.
The SPD party's Karl Lauterbach said the jab could be a “life saver” in the third wave, and banning it is “a mistake”.
International scientists including the World Health Organisation also said the evidence shows no higher risk after having the jab.
Meanwhile the Institute of the German Economy warned the vaccine stop would cost the economy two billion euros a week.
The City of Dortmund said it wants to close all schools because the vaccine delay risks spreading the virus.
It comes as figures show a sharp rise in infections across Germany, which now has a case rate of 83 per 100,000.
Hamburg's rate is over 90, and Nuremberg's is 112 – meaning an "emergency brake" return to tougher limits.
Intensive care doctors demanded an "immediate" return to national lockdown if cases continue to rise.
Christian Karagiannidis, director of Germany’s intensive care register, told broadcaster RBB: "We would argue strongly for returning immediately to a lockdown to avoid a strong third wave.
“Otherwise we are once again going to see 5,000 or 6,000 patients in intensive care.
"You can see very clearly that we will very quickly get back into rising ICU numbers, if we give the virus the opportunity to grow.”
The third wave is ravaging several European nations leading to a spike in infections and deaths.
Italy was plunged into a near-total shutdown today and Poland is set to toughen restrictions this week amid spiralling infection rates.
France is also said to be considering toughening up lockdown measures.
In Paris, intensive care wards are more than 95 per cent full, forcing the government to evacuate patients to other parts of France on special planes.
Health minister Olivier Véran said of the grim situation in the capital: “Every 12 minutes night and day, a Parisian is admitted to an intensive care bed.”
President Macron has imposed a 6pm curfew and other social limits in several regions, and doctors are now pressing him to urgently introduce another national lockdown.
“If we have to lock down, we will do it,” Jerome Salomon, head of the national health agency, told BFM television yesterday.
“The situation is complex, tense and is worsening in the Paris region.”
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