German Cases Rise at Faster Pace Though Key Spread Gauge Drops

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Mariajose Vera
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(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s coronavirus cases increased at a faster rate for a second day Friday, though a key metric on the spread of the disease registered a decline as the nation readies for some restrictions on public life to be lifted from next week.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has singled out the reproduction factor -- known by epidemiologists as R-naught -- as an important means of gauging how successful countries have been at keeping the virus in check.

Germany’s latest R0 is estimated at 0.7, according to a daily situation report published by the country’s public health authority late Thursday. This means that each person with the virus infects an average of 0.7 other people, down from 0.9 on Wednesday.

While Merkel has sanctioned a tentative easing of restrictions, she has urged caution. Data From Johns Hopkins University Friday showed virus cases increased at a faster rate for the second day in a row after declining steadily for almost a week.

The number of fatalities rose by 248, the smallest gain in three days, to more than 4,000. Germany has the fourth-highest number of cases in Europe behind Spain, Italy and France, which have a combined total of almost 60,000 fatalities.

Merkel and other European leaders are trying to balance the need to get battered economies up and running against the danger that prematurely easing lockdowns could spark a second wave of infections.

Denmark was one of the first nations on the continent to impose restrictions on movement and this week became one of the first to relax them. After younger children already returned to school, hairdressers, judges and other members of the labor force will resume work next week.

“No one wants to keep Denmark shut one day longer than is absolutely necessary,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Friday. “But we can’t proceed so fast that we’re unable to keep the epidemic under control.”

Merkel on Wednesday announced steps to begin returning Germany to normal. Some smaller shops will be allowed to start serving customers again next week, and schools will gradually reopen in early May. However, most of the restrictive measures brought in last month will remain in place for the time being.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday that Germany has come through the “first wave” in good shape thanks to citizens adhering to strict contact curbs. Hospitals will also begin performing non-urgent operations that were postponed to keep beds free for virus patients, he said.

“We have to find a new balance now,” Spahn said on ARD television. “We must remain prepared and at the same time make sure that normal service is resumed and that, for example, other chronically ill patients are well cared for.”

Spain, which has the second-most cases behind the U.S., reported the biggest daily increase in infections in a week Thursday. New fatalities rose compared with the previous day.

Italy, where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is considering plans to ease restrictions, had the most new cases in four days as tests rose to a daily record of 60,999. The number of deaths, hospitalized patients and intensive care patients all declined from the day before.

Conte’s administration may agree a 70 billion-euro ($76 billion) package of spending measures in a decree due to be approved on Monday morning, Il Sole 24 Ore reported Friday.

France recorded the most new cases in a single day on Thursday. President Emmanuel Macron has extended a lockdown to May 11 and said the country was under prepared for the outbreak.

(Updates with German figures starting in first paragraph)

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