By Sabine Siebold
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will not be able to lift all coronavirus lockdown curbs at the beginning of February, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, stressing the need to further reduce contacts to fend off a more virulent variant of the virus.
The German cabinet on Wednesday approved stricter controls on people entering the country after a national lockdown was last week tightened and extended to the end of January.
"One thing is already evident: It will not be possible to loosen all restrictions on Feb. 1," Spahn told Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday, adding it would take another two or three months for the effects of a vaccination campaign to kick in.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases reported 19,600 new COVID infections on Wednesday. The death toll rose by 1,060 to 42,637.
The new, tighter rules will require people arriving from countries with high caseloads or where the more virulent variant is circulating to take a coronavirus test.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told a meeting of lawmakers on Tuesday that the coming eight to ten weeks would be very hard if the more infectious variant first identified in Britain spread to Germany, according to a participant at the meeting.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, meanwhile, renewed the government's promise to carry on supporting companies hit by the pandemic. "We will continue doing this as long as necessary," he told broadcaster ZDF.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Hans-Edzard Busemann; Editing by Riham Alkousaa, Madeline Chambers and John Stonestreet)