Germany, which crossed the threshold of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths, is in a phase of exponential growth in numbers of cases, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Germany on Friday reported a new record of more than 76,000 COVID-19 infections in a day as its air force got ready for the first time in the pandemic to fly severely ill patients to other parts of the country to unburden struggling hospitals.
The day before, Germany had crossed the threshold of 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths amid warnings from hospitals mainly in the south and the east of the country that their intensive care units are filling to capacity.
Later on Friday, the German air force will transport severely ill COVID-19 patients from the southern town of Memmingen to Muenster near Osnabrueck in the north to relieve clinics in the south, a security source told Reuters.
It is the first time that the air force has to use its so-called "flying intensive care units", planes fitted with up to six ICU beds, to transfer COVID-19 patients within Germany.
Berlin will also declare South Africa a virus variant area on Friday after the detection of a new COVID-19 variant there, a health ministry source said.
The decision, which will come into effect from Friday night, will mean airlines will be allowed to fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa, according to the source. Returning Germans, even those who are vaccinated, will then have to spend 14 days in quarantine.
"This newly discovered variant worries us. That is why we are acting pro-actively and early here," Health Minister Jens Spahn said. "The last thing we need now is a new variant being introduced that causes even more problems."
The variant - called B.1.1.529 - has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible, South African scientists say.
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