BERLIN - Germany might have to extend measures to dampen the coronavirus pandemic into March, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff said on Thursday after officials agreed tighter rules at least until Dec. 20 on Wednesday. "We have difficult winter months ahead of us. This will continue until March," Helge Braun told RTL television. "After March, I am very optimistic because we will probably be able to vaccinate more and more people and it will be easier to keep infection rates low with the spring." Merkel agreed with leaders of Germany's 16 federal states late on Wednesday to extend and tighten the coronavirus lockdown until Dec. 20, but ease rules over the Christmas holidays to let families and friends celebrate together. She is due to address the German parliament on Thursday morning to discuss the new measures. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 22,268 to 983,588, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday, while the death toll rose by 389 to 15,160. Germany imposed a month-long "lockdown lite" on Nov. 2 to rein in a second wave that is sweeping much of Europe. Bars and restaurants are closed, but schools and shops remain open. From Dec. 1, private gatherings will be limited to five people. Over Christmas, that number will rise to 10, not counting children, although families are asked to avoid social contact for a week ahead of visits. REUTERS
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