Germany appears likely to re-impose several coronavirus restrictions as it struggles with an “exponential growth” in infection numbers.
Under an agreement made with state governors two weeks ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel is supposed to re-impose restrictions in regions where the number of new weekly cases is above 100 per 100,000 residents.
On Friday, the nationwide average stood at 95.6.
Mrs Merkel said: “The situation is becoming very difficult.
“We have exponential growth…so it is good we had agreed on an emergency brake and unfortunately we will have to make use of this emergency brake.”
Infection rates have been rising in Germany, particularly among younger people, fuelled by a recent easing of restrictions and the growing incidence of the more easily transmissible variant first found in the UK.
Mrs Merkel met 16 state leaders on Friday and the group will meet again on Monday to discuss extending a lockdown that has been in place since mid-December, as well as reversing plans to reopen the economy.
A sluggish vaccination campaign, delivery delays and a three-day pause in the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have meant that just 8.5% of the population have received their first vaccine dose, far behind countries such as the UK and US.
Speaking on Friday, Mrs Merkel told reporters: “The motto is ‘vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate’.”
State leaders have said they are ready to make up for the time that was lost while European authorities investigated claims of blood clots being linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine was declared “safe and effective” by the bloc’s medicines regulator earlier this week.
Germany will send vaccines directly to GPs, with vaccinations expected to begin at surgeries from mid-April at the latest.
Extra doses will be sent to regions on the French and Czech borders.
Two large vaccination centres in Berlin have been reopened and people who had their appointments cancelled this week due to the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine are able to return without making a new appointment.
The Minister-President of the southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, 72, received an AstraZeneca vaccination on Friday, in a move aimed at boosting confidence.
Mrs Merkel said Germany has “a good chance” of offering a vaccine to every resident by the end of the summer, also adding her vote of confidence in the AstraZeneca jab.
But health minister Jens Spahn warned that vaccines will not be enough on their own to contain the third wave of the pandemic, as there is not enough supply.
“The rising case numbers may mean that we cannot take further opening steps in the weeks to come. On the contrary, we may even have to take steps backwards,” he said.
Germany expects to receive 15 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the second quarter of this year, a few million fewer than expected, he added.
Mrs Merkel said Germany would consider ordering doses of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik, a move backed by Mr Spahn, but the chancellor said she would prefer this move was undertaken by Europe.
It comes as pressure builds on other nearby countries to tackle the growing third wave.
In France, the government announced new restrictions this week.
In Poland, more people are on respirators than at any time since the beginning of the pandemic, with children making up a greater percentage of those in hospital.
Officials there blame the variant discovered in the UK and have warned worse is to come, as a new lockdown begins on Saturday.
Hungary has extended its lockdown for another week and in Bosnia, which has yet to start mass vaccination, a lockdown began in the capital on Friday.