Germans must reduce travel, partying to fight COVID-19, says Merkel aide

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany should continue capping the number of people allowed at gatherings and clamp down on unnecessary travel as the country battles rising coronavirus infections, an aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday.

"We must be a bit stricter in places where infection chains spread mostly, which is parties and, unfortunately, also travel," the chancellor's chief of staff, Helge Braun, told public broadcaster ARD.

"We are at the beginning of a second wave and only the politicians' and the population's determination will decide whether or not we can avoid it, or slow it down," he added.

Germany had managed to keep the number of new infections and deaths lower than many of its neighbours but the daily number of new cases has leapt above 4,000 since Thursday, the highest since April.

Sunday's count was below that but that is because test reports tend to be lower at weekends.

Merkel and mayors from Germany's 11 largest cities agreed on Friday to adopt stricter measures if infections exceed a threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 population in a week.

More than 20 cities are now above that level, which has caused a patchwork of internal travel restrictions.

Braun, a medical doctor, said test centres should prioritise health sector workers and people showing symptoms over tourists. Holidaymakers can circumvent the local travel curbs if they produce negative test results.

Bavaria's prime minister, Markus Soeder, at the weekend proposed steeper fines for people not wearing masks where mandated in places such as public transport and shops -- of 250 euros ($295.60) compared with the current 50 euros, and 500 euros for repeat offenders.

Braun said he agreed with tough penalties.

Merkel will hold further talks with state premiers on Wednesday.

($1 = 0.8457 euros)

(Reporting by Vera Eckert; Editint by Frances Kerry)