ANGELA Merkel has warned that Germany could be plunged into ANOTHER lockdown as its older population shuns the Oxford vaccine.
The Chancellor said a “third wave" of infections could sweep the country as it struggles with the jab rollout – as the UK counts down the days to freedom.
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Just four per cent of the German population has been immunised, compared to England's 27.4 per cent, according to the BBC.
And Merkel and the country’s state premiers have agreed to extend Covid restrictions until March 7 in a bid to stop a surge in cases.
In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ms Merkel warned that highly transmissible new variants threatened to undermine the gains made in lockdown.
She told the newspaper: “Because of (variants), we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, from which a third wave may emerge.
“So we must proceed wisely and carefully so that a third wave does not necessitate a new complete shutdown throughout Germany.”
It comes after Germany reported its highest rise in cases for three weeks yesterday, with new 10,774 infections recorded.
Angela Merkel has stressed that she will not reopen the economy fully until infections fall below 35 cases per 100,000.
This means the country's current incidence rate of 76.6 cases per 100,000 will need to halve in order for restaurants and pubs to open their doors, and vaccinations must be ramped up significantly.
But so far the country has seen a sluggish vaccine rollout hampered by production delays, political infighting and confusion over the use of the Oxford jab in over-65s.
German authorities previously refused to recommend the use of the Oxford vaccine in older age groups due to a 'lack of data' – but have been forced into an embarrassing U-turn.
Ms Merkel is under increased pressure to speed up the rollout with the country inoculating fewer than 900,000 people a week, reported The Times.
Meanwhile, large swathes of the older population across Europe have refused the Oxford jab after EU leaders repeatedly made baseless allegations about its efficacy.
German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the jab was "hardly effective in seniors" in a controversial article on January 25 – but the data used to back the claims was rubbished by Astrazeneca.
In the same week, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed the vaccine was "quasi-ineffective" for people over 65.
It comes despite a study finding that just one shot of the British-made Covid jab slashes older people’s risk of being taken to hospital by 94 per cent.
But with both governments under increasing pressure to replicate Britain's vaccination success, leaders have launched a fresh push to encourage over-65s to come forward to get the jab.
Merkel's chief spokesman Steffen Seibert urged Germans to come forward and get immunised.
He tweeted on Monday: “The vaccine from AstraZeneca is both safe and highly effective… The vaccine can save lives.”
And the French government has said it wants to “rehabilitate” the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the health ministry admitting that the jab had an “image deficit”.
'We will use all possible levers to rehabilitate the vaccine,' the French health ministry said, according to Le Telegramme, days after Scottish data proved the AstraZeneca jab does work well.
EU Commission leader Ursula von der Leyen, who was involved in a furious row with Astrazeneca over supplies, also said this week she would "take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought".
Meanwhile, Germany's highest-selling newspaper Bild yesterday said the UK's 'successful' vaccine programme had allowed Boris Johnson to promise a brighter future to Brits while Germany is "stuck in lockdown".
Boris Johnson on Monday unveiled his roadmap out of lockdown, with all legal restrictions set to be lifted on June 21 should cases continue to fall.
Citing Britain's vaccination success as a reason to be optimistic, Bild's front page headline read: "Dear Brits, we envy you!"
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