Germany has highest daily virus death toll

Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Germany's hard lockdown could endure beyond January.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Germany's hard lockdown could endure beyond January.

Germany has counted its highest 24-hour death toll in the coronavirus pandemic so far, despite sweeping lockdown measures designed to curb the spread of the virus and shield the nation's hospitals.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the government's agency for disease control, reported 1244 additional deaths, bringing the total of people who have died after catching the novel coronavirus so far to 43,881.

Germany's previous record of 1188 deaths over a 24-hour period was reported on January 8.

The total number of infections confirmed rose by 25,164 to 1,978,590, according to the RKI, whose president, Lothar Wieler, warned that a lag in testing over the New Year could mean that the latest numbers still don't show the full picture.

In order for normal life to return to Germany, the country "must massively reduce the case numbers," Wieler told reporters in Berlin.

He urged more employers to switch to work-from-home models and appealed to the public to reduce contact with others to an absolute minimum.

"It is possible that the case numbers have stabilised," Wieler noted, while adding that much more still needed to be done.

The country has closed schools, non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, and leisure and cultural facilities under a lockdown that has been incrementally tightened since early November.

The measures, which also ban people from meeting with more than one other person from another household, are set to remain in place until the end of the month at the earliest.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top officials have warned that the lockdown could endure beyond January.

Merkel is expected to meet the nation's 16 state premiers on January 25 to discuss next steps.

The stated aim of Germany's lockdown is to bring the number of coronavirus cases recorded per 100,000 people over a seven-day period back down to below 50 - at which stage, overwhelmed health authorities can resume tracking chains of infection.

Nationwide, that key metric currently stands at 151.2, the RKI reported.

A top medical official echoed RKI chief Wieler's cautious optimism in comments to the Rheinische Post newspaper on Thursday.

"It looks like we've passed the peak in intensive care patients," said Gernot Marx, president of the DIVI association, which collates data on intensive and emergency medical care.

A feared surge after Christmas and New Year has not materialised, Marx added.

"My hope is that we do not see this [surge] at all - unless the new mutation of the virus throws a spanner in the works," he said.

Wieler expressed concern over new, more transmissible coronavirus variants that have sprung up in Britain and South Africa and since appeared in Germany.

Australian Associated Press