Germany may not be able to relax lockdown measures in the run-up to Easter, the country's health minister said on Friday.
Jens Spahn made his comments as Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases warned that case numbers were rising at a "very clearly exponential rate."
"The rising case numbers may mean that we are unable to take any further steps towards opening up in the weeks to come. On the contrary, we may even have to take steps backwards," Spahn said.
Health authorities say highly contagious variants have driven up case numbers in the EU's biggest country, which is entering a third wave of the disease.
Germany eyes deal for Russia shot
Spahn said such a wave could not be stopped by vaccinations alone, amid a sluggish rollout of the shots across the EU as a whole.
"There are not yet enough vaccine doses in Europe to stop the third wave by vaccination alone," says Spahn. "Even if the deliveries from EU orders come reliably, it will still take a few weeks until the risk groups are fully vaccinated."
Spahn said he would be in favor of signing a national supply deal with Russia for its Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19.
"I can also well imagine that we conclude contracts — and conclude them quickly," he told a weekly news conference.
"I am actually very much in favor of us doing it nationally if the European Union does not do something."
The health minister said Germany was in close contact with Russia on the vaccine. A prerequisite was to obtain more detail on how many doses could be delivered, he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet the country's 16 state leaders on Monday to set new lockdown rules based on the latest developments.
Variant drives virus momentum
Meanwhile, the RKI has urged people not to travel over the Easter period to contain the number of cases.
"The infection process is gaining momentum," RKI Vice President Lars Schaade told reporters on Friday.
The rapid spread of the more contagious B117 coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK meant that "unfortunately, there are difficult weeks ahead," he added.
"It is very possible that we will have a similar situation over Easter to the one we had before Christmas, with very high case numbers, many severe cases and deaths and hospitals that are overwhelmed," Schaade said.
Germany and the AstraZeneca vaccine
Spahn's comments came as Germany restarts vaccinations using the AstraZeneca vaccine after its use was suspended.
After an extensive review of possible blood clot risks, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) declared the jab to be "safe and effective."
Several other EU countries said they would also restart the AstraZeneca inoculations.
rc/rt (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)