Angela Merkel receives first dose of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine

German leader pleads with MPs to apply nationwide 'emergency brake' as case numbers surge

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Germany's leader Angela Merkel received a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca.

The chancellor received the injection hours after she urged members of parliament to pass a bill that gives her the power to impose a nationwide "emergency brake" to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert posted a photograph of Ms Merkel's record of vaccination on Twitter.

"I am happy that I received the first vaccination with AstraZeneca today," she said.

"I would like to thank everyone who is involved in the vaccination campaign – and everyone who is vaccinated. Vaccination is the key to overcoming the pandemic."

German officials are trying to shore up public confidence in the AstraZeneca drug, which has been on a roller-coaster ride in Europe.

The country's vaccine commission said in March it recommended use of the shot only for people aged 60 and older after concerns over rare blood clotting cases among younger recipients.

The change of advice came after the shot was initially recommended only for younger people.

Several other countries, including France, Spain and Canada, also imposed age limits on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Denmark this week banned the use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine outright over blood clot concerns, just as the EU said it was expecting 50 million Pfizer vaccine doses earlier than expected.

The UK recommends the shot not be used by people under 30.

Earlier, Ms Merkel told parliament that the virus was unforgiving and would run rampant unless new restrictions were imposed without delay.

"I am convinced coming to an emergency stop across the country is urgent, it is overdue, because I have to say again today that the situation is serious, very serious," she said.

“Intensive care physicians have appealed for help, one after another. Who are we if we ignore these distressed calls?"

The legislation seeks to end the patchwork of measures that characterised the pandemic response across Germany's 16 states.

Ms Merkel faces an uphill battle to pass the bill, with state governments reluctant to cede any authority over health care to the federal government.

"The virus does not forgive hesitation, it only makes everything last longer. The virus does not negotiate, it understands only one language, the language of determination," she said.

"Determination now helps everyone so much more – I am convinced of that – than if we hesitate again and proceed half-heartedly.”

The speech to parliament came as the country recorded 25,831 new cases of Covid-19 overnight and 247 additional deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

The emergency brake being proposed would apply in regions with more than 100 new weekly cases per 100,000 people.

It would mandate a uniform set of rules imposed by the federal government, entailing the closure of shops, cultural and sports facilities, limits on personal contacts and night-time curfews.

In Germany, lockdown measures are decided at a state level and many have expressed frustration and confusion in recent months as governors interpreted rules agreed with the federal government in different ways, despite having similar infection rates.

The lower house of parliament is expected to vote on the bill next week, followed by the upper house.