German upper house backs new law to fight third COVID wave

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German upper house of parliament Bundesrat discusses the Infection Protection Act, in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's upper house of parliament approved a law on Thursday to give Chancellor Angela Merkel's government more powers to fight a third wave of the coronavirus.

The new law enables the national government to impose curfews between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., as well as limits on private gatherings, sport and shop openings. Schools will close and return to online lessons if the virus incidence exceeds 165 cases per 100,000 residents.

The law still needs the signature of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before it can come into force. The changes will apply initially until June 30.

Merkel drew up the law after some of Germany's 16 federal states refused to impose tough measures despite a surge in cases.

Manuela Schwesig, premier of the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, said the amendment did not go far enough. "This law has a serious design flaw. This law will not bring down infection figures," she told ZDF television.

Germany reported a rise of 29,518 coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 3.21 million. Some 80,893 people have died and doctors have warned that unless action is taken, intensive-care units may struggle to cope.

The seven-day incidence rate rose slightly to 161.1 per 100,000.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)