German COVID cases could revisit December peak in April

BERLIN (Reuters) - German health experts warned on Saturday against any further easing of coronavirus lockdown measures as the number of cases jumped again, raising the possibility that infections could again reach peaks seen around Christmas by mid-April.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases predicted that the number of daily reported cases could exceed 30,000 in the 14th week of the year starting April 12.

"An extrapolation of the trends shows that case numbers can be expected above the Christmas level from week 14 onwards," the RKI said in its current situation report.

On Saturday, the number of COVID-19 cases rose by 12,674 and the death toll was up 239, with the number of cases per 100,000 over seven days jumping to 76.1 from 72.4.

Germany's death toll from the virus stands at 73,301, with a reported 2,558,455 infections.

Frustration about the ongoing lockdown and the slow pace of vaccinations has been denting support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, also under fire over a face mask procurement scandal involving lawmakers from the party.

A small group of protesters braved rain in Berlin on Saturday to demonstrate against the lockdown.

Merkel's Christian Democrats have seen support slip in two states where regional elections on Sunday will be a crucial gauge of popular feeling before a federal election in September.

Merkel and state leaders agreed a phased easing of curbs earlier this month along with an "emergency brake" to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers rise above 100 per 100,000 on three consecutive days.

The RKI report said the rapid spread in Germany of a more infectious virus variant first detected in Britain could mean that the number of cases per 100,000 reaches levels of between 200 and 500 by mid-April.

Leaders are due to meet again on March 22 to discuss whether any further relaxation of the rules is possible.

"We can only have more relaxation if there are stable or falling case numbers," Karl Lauterbach, health expert for the Social Democrats, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper, adding this was unlikely anytime soon.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Ros Russell)