German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday defended the extension of the nationwide lockdown until March 7 in Bundestag and called on Germans to be "extremely cautious" and warned of the "dangers" of COVID-19 variants, reported DW News Agency.
Lawmakers are hoping to avoid the health system being overrun by new COVID-19 mutations through the extension of the lockdown.
Merkel also warned that the new mutations, which are already present in Germany, "may destroy any success" already achieved by the months-long lockdown.
The chancellor also defended the use of infection rates to determine when it is safe to ease the lockdown measures.
"I really support the fact that when it comes to further openings and re-openings we've decided on the basis of these new mutations, not to give dates, but to give infection rates," she said.
The German chancellor acknowledged that the lockdown had caused lots of suffering, saying: "This is a hard winter, both outside and when it comes to our lives."
However, she said that her aim was to avoid another wave with out-of-control infection rates.
"My target is that any new wave that might happen if the new virus strains become dominant, we mustn't give that room, we mustn't end up with another two-digit exponential growth."
As per the German lockdown rules, all nonessential shops and services are currently closed, as are schools, while workplaces have been urged to send workers home, reported DW News Agency.
The rules also advise Germans to wear medical masks or FFP2 filter masks when entering shops or using public transport and contact is limited to one person outside of the same household.
Meanwhile, State leaders and the government agreed that hairdressers may begin to open from March 1 if they follow strict hygiene guidelines while each state may decide on how to "gradually reopen" schools and daycare centers.
The government is now also aiming for an infection rate of 35 new infections per 100,000 people in the past seven days. This number is lower than the previous rate of 50 that was considered necessary to allow contact tracing to function, reported DW News Agency.
Further, the infection rate has been falling, but lawmakers are concerned about the spread of new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 -- which are already present in Germany -- if the country opens up too quickly, reported DW News Agency.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recorded over 10,200 new infections in the past 24 hours on Thursday, slightly up from the previous two days, but following a general downward trend.
The infection rate reached 64.2 new infections per 100,000 people in the past seven days, down from a high of 197.6 on December 22.
There were also 666 new coronavirus deaths reported on Thursday, bringing the total death toll since the beginning of the pandemic up to 63,635.
As pointed out in Merkel's speech, many people have been disappointed by the slow rollout of vaccines across the country, reported DW News Agency.
According to the RKI, some 2.4 million people have received their first vaccine jab -- equivalent to 2.9 per cent of the population -- while 1.1 million have been given both doses -- 1.3 per cent of the population.