"It's correct to use the Easter period to brake the infections so that the ramp up of inoculations and the many tests can help us control the virus", Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said Tuesday on ZDF television. But the spread of more infectious variants of the virus has pushed up cases, prompting concerns that hospitals could soon be overstretched without further curbs.
"The case numbers are rising exponentially and intensive-care beds are filling up again", she said, adding that the number of infections must come down to allow the country's vaccination campaign to start taking effect. On Tuesday, the number of Covid-19 patients in German ICUs rose to 3,135, the highest in more than a month.
The lockdown extension comes as the European Union squares off with the United Kingdom over a limited supply of a vaccine produced by pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca.
The video talks between Mrs Merkel and regional leaders were extraordinarily fraught even by the standards set by previous rounds.
Asked about the EU's plans to restrict the export of vaccines and components, Merkel said she supported efforts by the bloc's executive Commission to ensure contracts are fulfilled, citing the supply problems the European Union has had with the AstraZeneca shot. "We will decide responsibly".
According to the German chancellor, the decision was made to toughen the isolation regime on April 1-5, and April 1 and April 3 were declared "days of rest". These include the partial closing of non-essential stores and the shutdown of hotels, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues.
Citizens will be encouraged to remain at home, private gatherings limited to one other household and a maximum of five people, and public meetings banned. The government will ask churches to hold any Easter services online to avoid gatherings. It is now in a much tougher lockdown.
Talks had dragged on for hours as Merkel and state leaders were at loggerheads over whether to ease restrictions on domestic travel over the Easter holiday season. That leaves travel overseas as the only option for those who are desperate to go on holidays.
"Unfortunately, we are going to have to use these emergency brakes", Merkel warned on Friday.
Amid concern over the rise in Germans travelling overseas on holidays, authorities also agreed on a blanket requirement for air travellers to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to Germany.
Merkel said Germany was in a race against time to vaccinate its population before new coronavirus variants took over.
Highlighting the problem, Germany's seven-day incidence of new coronavirus infections passed a critical benchmark that is a factor in the government determining whether tougher lockdown measures are to be reimposed. Some 9% of Germans have received at least one shot of vaccine, but the pace of vaccinations is expected to pick up next month. "We have managed that throughout this long pandemic journey, and we have to manage that in the coming weeks".