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Germany reopens hairdressers, considers way ahead on virus

Hairdressers across Germany reopened for business Monday after a 2½-month closure, another cautious step as the country balances a desire to loosen restrictions with concern about the impact of more contagious coronavirus variants.

The move came after many elementary students returned to school a week ago, following a decision Feb. 10 by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors. They will confer again on Wednesday to decide how to proceed with the rest of Germany’s coronavirus restrictions, which at present run until March 7.

Some states also allowed businesses such as florists and hardware stores to open on Monday. Most stores have been closed nationwide since Dec. 16. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have been closed since Nov. 2 and hotels are allowed only to accommodate business travelers.

Customers buy flowers at a garden center in Munich, Germany, Monday, March 1, 2021. Some German federal states are allowing businesses such as flower shops and hardware stores another cautious step as the country balances a desire to loosen restrictions with concern about the impact of more contagious coronavirus variants. (Peter Kneffeldpa via AP)

There are increasing calls for restrictions to be further relaxed, but also a desire to remain cautious. A steady decline in infection figures has stalled, and even been reversed in some areas, as a more contagious variant first discovered in Britain spreads.

“This week will set the course for the coming months,” Bavarian governor Markus Soeder, an advocate in recent months of a cautious approach, said. He called the virus situation “unstable.”

“It's really important that we make smart decisions this week,” he said. “Smart decisions means that the mood must be taken on board — we must find the right balance between caution and opening, and we absolutely must not lose our nerves ... and simply fulfil all wishes.”

Germany’s disease control center reported 4,732 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, compared with 4,369 a week earlier. Another 60 deaths were reported, bringing the total to 70,105.

Germany had given 4.7% of its population a first vaccine shot as of Friday, while 2.4% had received a second jab — relatively slow progress that has drawn sharp criticism.

Bavaria and two neighboring states plan to give a total 15,000 doses of vaccine to the neighboring Czech Republic, which currently has the highest infection rate in the European Union.

Soeder said the “symbolic measure” ultimately helps Germany, because Czech authorities want to use it in high-risk areas near the frontier and vaccinate cross-border commuters.

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak