Germany surpasses 2 million coronavirus cases, death rate up

Vaccinations at Havelhoehe community hospital in Berlin
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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany surpassed 2 million coronavirus infections and the death toll from the pandemic reached almost 45,000, experts said on Friday, a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded "very fast action" to curb the deadly virus.

Europe's biggest economy and most populous country managed the pandemic better than neighbours last spring. But it has seen a sharp rise in cases and deaths recently and daily per capita mortality has often exceeded the U.S. rate since mid-December.

Alarmed by the high infection rate and bracing for the spread of more transmissible variants of the virus, Merkel told top officials from her party on Thursday that she wanted "very fast action".

Germany's coronavirus cases increased by 22,368 to 2,000,958, according to the latest date from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. It was the smallest rise in infections on a Friday for more than two months. A week ago, the number of new cases registered was almost 10,000 higher.

The situation in intensive care units relaxed slightly, too, according to the RKI.

But a high death toll, up 1,113 to 44,994 on Friday, and worries over more contagious variants of the coronavirus are fanning fears that existing lockdown measures are falling short.

Merkel is bringing forward to Tuesday next week a meeting with regional leaders initially planned for Jan. 25 to discuss tougher measures to further reduce social contact, participants at the gathering said.

Part of the debate is expected to focus on whether companies should be forced or incentivised to have more people work from home. There is also disagreement over whether schools should reopen in February, people close to the talks told Reuters.

Germany aims for its measures to bring the number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days down to no more than 50. That number currently stands around 150.

Limiting the spread of the virus would buy authorities time until enough people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity. So far about 1.2% of the German population, or about one million people, have been vaccinated, according to the German health ministry.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, Markus Wacket, Andreas Rinke and Sabine Siebold; editing by Maria Sheahan and Mark Heinrich)