Angela Merkel attends a cabinet meeting, as the spread of coronavirus continues, in Berlin, Germany. AFP
The coronavirus pandemic will last for at least the rest of this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff told Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday.
"We are not living after the pandemic now — rather we are living in the middle of a pandemic, one that will be with us for a while — at least for this year and that's being very optimistic," Helge Braun said.
Merkel announced steps on Wednesday to ease the coronavirus lockdown in Germany but at the same time launched an "emergency brake" mechanism allowing for renewed restrictions in case infections pick up again.
Meanwhile, Industrial production in Germany fell by 9.2 per cent month-on-month in March, official data showed on Thursday, as Europe's top economy began to feel the effects of the coronavirus crisis.
"Because of the coronavirus pandemic," the monthly barometer of manufacturing output -- a key measure of economic health — suffered "its worst fall since the beginning of the data series in 1991," statistics authority Destatis said in a statement, with the vital car industry among the most heavily impacted.
Germany began tentatively lifting its lockdown two weeks ago, opening some shops and schools, after infection rates came down. Merkel and the state leaders agreed last week to loosen the rules further, giving religious institutions, playgrounds, museums and zoos the green light to open.
Daily "Handelsblatt" quoted German Health Minister Jens Spahn and his colleagues from France, Italy and the Netherlands as writing in a letter to the EU Commission it had seen that access to vaccines is "one of the most urgent issues that the European Union has to address at present".
Europe's largest economy is battling a fresh surge in coronavirus cases, and recorded 351 fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 100,119, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute.
Elsewhere in Europe, frustrations with COVID-19 curbs were spilling over, with scuffles breaking out at a large anti-restrictions protest in the German city of Kassel, and thousands joining a similar demonstration in Liestal, Switzerland.
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