Germany set to stay in lockdown as daily coronavirus death toll hits record high

European medicines regulator under pressure to approve Oxford vaccine

Germany could be forced to extend its hard lockdown after its daily coronavirus death toll exceeded 1,000 for the first time.

A record 1,129 deaths were reported on Wednesday – eclipsing the previous high of 962 – as were 22,459 new infections.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country was “very far from normality” and predicted the lockdown would continue beyond the January 10 deadline.

“I don’t see how, in this situation, we can return to how things were before the lockdown,” he said.

Most shops remain closed, as did schools, restaurants, and cultural and leisure centres.

New Year’s Eve festivities will be muted, with a ban on the sale of fireworks and tight restrictions on the number of people who can gather in public.

“It will probably be the quietest New Year’s Eve that Germany can remember,” Mr Spahn said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states will meet on January 5 to decide on future measures.

Elsewhere, several Spanish regions were looking to tighten restrictions ahead of the New Year celebrations.

Some regions were limiting celebrations to six people per household, while others were set to impose a 12.30am curfew.

The country recorded another 15,058 new cases and 247 deaths on Wednesday.

Across the English Channel, the UK’s Office for National Statistics estimated the country’s true coronavirus death toll was more than 88,000.

But the government’s official tally remains about 71,000.

More areas were placed in England’s toughest tier of restrictions on Wednesday as a more infectious strain of the virus pushed daily cases to the highest level since mass testing began.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was confident restrictions could be relaxed by spring.

Britain’s medicines regulator approved the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine for use. Germany urged Europe’s medicines regulator to follow suit, having previously criticised the body for being too slow to give the Pfizer/BioNTech shot the green light.

The regulator said it had not yet received an application from AstraZeneca to approve the vaccine.