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German leaders rebel against Merkel's strict lockdown and push ahead with easing restrictions

Angela Merkel is facing a rebellion from regional leaders and voters over Germany's call to extend lockdown restrictions following of a terrible start to the vaccine rollout.

Several of the country's state leaders defied the Chancellor by allowing garden centres, florists and nail parlours to reopen from Monday.

Mrs Merkel had pushed for an extension to current lockdown restrictions, warning the country faced a 'third wave' of coronavirus if rules were lifted too quickly.

But Germany's government system means regional leaders have power over lockdowns. Even Bavarian leader Markus S√∂der, one of Mrs Merkel's staunchest supporters on the lockdown, is said to have moved away from her position.

A majority of citizens are now reported to support easing restrictions. A survey by ZDF television found that 56 per cent supported such plans while only 41 per cent were opposed. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders are expected to meet on March 3 to discuss a gradual easing of lockdown measures that are currently in place until at least March 7.

Angela Merkel is facing a rebellion from regional leaders and voters over Germany's call to extend lockdown restrictions following of a terrible start to the vaccine rollout

EU nations including Germany are being far outpaced by Britain in the vaccine race after Brussels was late to place orders with firms including Pfizer and AstraZeneca 

Despite Mrs Merkel agreeing with the 26 other EU nations to keep 'tight restrictions' on public life and free movement, she is expected to make a compromise after telling German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 'We always have to be flexible'.

Germany's Economic Minister Peter Altmaier said he was confident that restaurants could be allowed to partially open soon so that outdoor dining on terraces and in beer gardens should be possible around the Easter weekend.

Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues have been shut since early November. A stricter lockdown from mid-December forced non-essential shops, services and schools to close as well. Factories and offices have remained open.

The lockdown has helped to push down infections and deaths since the start of the year. But worries over more transmissible variants of the virus and a third wave of infections persist, making it more difficult for leaders to ease restrictions. 

Many blame Germany's poor uptake in vaccines, with just 3.64million people having received at least one jab compared to the UK's 18.6million.

Germany's 16 states have taken delivery of more than 1.4million AstraZeneca doses, but only 315,000 of these have been given to patients so far with some essential workers refusing to take the jab.

'We have to prepare for a situation where we have to continuously vaccinate for a longer period of time, maybe over years, due to new coronavirus variants, akin to the situation we know from the flu,' said German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a EU conference meeting.

Speaking after a meeting with the economy ministers of Germany's 16 federal states, Altmaier said authorities still had to balance the need to contain the spread of the virus and the goal to avoid causing lasting damage to the economy.

Altmaier said he would discuss the demands of businesses with Merkel over the weekend to prepare a decision on how lockdown measures could be lifted.

'We expect a clear timetable with binding and comprehensible criteria as to when, what and how under what conditions is possible again,' said Guido Zoellick, head of the Dehoga association for hotels and restaurants.

'We do not accept a continuation of the policy according to the motto "You stay closed to keep the rest of the economy open"...', Zoellick added.

The requirements for the opening steps should be defined uniformly and nationwide, Zoellick said, adding more speed in vaccinations and an effective rapid test strategy were needed.

Germany's health minister and top public health official beg citizens to take Oxford vaccine - after Merkel said she won't have it

Germany stepped up its efforts to persuade a reluctant public to take the Oxford vaccine today as Angela Merkel's health minister said it was 'strongly recommended' and a top health official hailed 'fantastic' real-world results from Scotland. 

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's top diseases institute, welcomed the findings by Edinburgh-based researchers that one dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab slashed hospitalisations by 94 per cent after four weeks. 

Health minister Jens Spahn said that 'this vaccine is safe and effective, it protects' as more than a million AstraZeneca doses delivered to Germany lie unused in storage after top EU figures questioned the efficacy of the shot. 

German health minister Jens Spahn, pictured, said the AstraZeneca jab was 'strongly recommended' - but it is still not available to the most vulnerable 

Spahn said the vaccine drive was gathering pace with record numbers of doses handed out on Wednesday and Thursday, but it is still moving far more slowly than in Britain which has handed out three times as many jabs to a smaller population.  

And despite the findings in Scotland, German regulators have yet to open up the jab to over-65s - with Angela Merkel saying she could not take it as an example to the country because she is too old at 66. 

Germany's 16 states have taken delivery of more than 1.4million AstraZeneca doses, but only 315,000 of these have been given to patients so far with some essential workers refusing to take the jab. 

By contrast, 5.3million shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab - co-developed by a German firm - have been deployed out of 6.7million doses delivered so far. 

The reluctance to take AstraZeneca shots piles further pressure on health officials already struggling to ramp up jabs because of the EU's chaotic procurement. 

Health minister Spahn acknowledged that 'too much vaccine is sitting in the fridge', after Merkel said the AstraZeneca vaccine had an 'acceptance problem'. 

There have also been reports of side-effects leading hospital staff and other front-line workers to call in sick. Regulators and scientists say the vaccine is safe. 

'We strongly recommend it: this vaccine is safe and effective, it protects,' Spahn told a news conference on Friday. 

'It protects oneself and others, like both other vaccines,' he added, referring to the Pfizer and Moderna products.

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