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Merkel and other top officials arrive to brief the press. Photo: Christian Marquardt - Pool/Getty Images

Germany will begin a "gradual" and "very careful" loosening of its coronavirus lockdown next week, though social distancing rules will remain in place through at least May 3, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.

Where things stand: After previously rebuffing calls for a plan to reopen the economy, Merkel laid out a general roadmap as much of Europe remains locked down.

  • Smaller shops will be able to open next week, once they've established “plans to maintain hygiene." Car dealers and bookstores of any size can reopen Monday, but beauty salons will have to wait until May 4.
  • Schools will “very slowly” begin to reopen on May 4, with students who have exams taking priority and new precautions being taken, including for school buses.
  • Restaurants and bars will remain closed for the time being. Religious services and other large events won’t return until Aug. 31.

Why it matters: Germany has one of the world’s largest confirmed caseloads but far fewer deaths than countries like the U.K. and France. A widespread testing program and Merkel’s decisive leadership have been praised for containing the threat and potentially easing the road to recovery.

  • Merkel is far from declaring victory. She said Germany had seen only "fragile intermediate success,” and she urged Germans to remain vigilant.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.