Despite the drop in the total of recent coronavirus cases, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders extended the country’s lockdown for another month Wednesday, with Merkel warning that the variables have significantly shifted goal posts, but after arguing for weeks that France may also be heading to lockdown. Else, French officials suddenly changed course this week, presenting a much more optimistic assessment. “It is possible and desirable that we do not have to go back to lockdown,” French Health Minister Olivier Ferrand said this week, leaving some observers baffled. France now has more than twice as many new cases per person as in Germany, and the highly transmissible variant B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in Britain, is estimated to account for up to 25 percent of new infections in the country, according to For numbers released Thursday. Variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil have also been discovered in France, although they are less prevalent. “Are you finding it difficult to get to know our government and its optimism right now?” A journalist for the French public broadcaster wrote in a column on Thursday. “Same here.” Scientists watched the rotation with alarm. “The French approach is very dangerous,” said Tobias Cort, director of the Institute for Public Health at the Charité Hospital in the German capital. In defending their strategy, French officials stressed the negative mental health and economic impacts of the lockdowns, with Ferrand saying that every week without a lockdown “is a week with extra freedoms.” Germans have been in a tight lockdown since early November, with schools and kindergartens closed, and those who can do so work from home. Cafes and restaurants have been closed except for meals abroad, some states have gone further and imposed a nightly curfew, and although Germany initially struggled to reduce the number of cases, it has steadily decreased in recent weeks. From a peak of more than 36,000 daily cases in December, the country is now reporting fewer than 10,000 cases per day, and while the US has also seen numbers drop without such drastic measures, German leadership attributes the progress to its limitations. A person has died of coronavirus in Germany, compared to nearly 473,000 in the US – more than seven times the number of deaths, even though the US population is only four times larger. Vaccination rates are increasing while deaths and injuries decrease, Merkel told the German parliament Thursday, “And if this is the complete picture, you will see me here completely confident, even with all the difficulties,” she said. But the risk of variants exists, if not fully visible yet and is a “great danger to this well-traveled path.” With that in mind, Germany raised the level of new openings this week, from an average of 50 infections per 100,000 people to 35 per 100,000. The country’s current rate is around 70 per 100,000, and for most of January, French ministers took on a tone similar to Merkel’s. Amid fears of a looming third wave of the virus in Europe linked to the new variables, France lifted a curfew from 8 pm to 6 pm last month, ordering the closure of some shopping centers and banning non-essential travel from outside the European Union. Hotels and most shops remained open. Employees still take crowded subway trains to offices. Quarantine policies in France are also less strict than those of Germany, and are applied less than those in Britain, where new arrivals will need to quarantine in government-approved hotels and risk 10 years in prison if they break the rules. New infections and hospitalizations in France have decreased slightly in recent days. But scientists fear that the numbers may provide a false sense of reassurance.While Britain and Denmark are among the countries that screen the most coronavirus infections for mutations, France and Germany have fallen behind, and in early January, widespread testing showed that the alternative was first discovered. In Britain at the time it might already be responsible for about 1 percent of new cases in France, but testing efforts were limited to samples from just two days, and some studies have suggested that the variants may be more prevalent in some places since then. Including the metropolitan area, where the British variant could account for about 40 percent of new cases, according to a recent study. German scientists have likewise sought to boost the virus’s sequence in recent months, and do not believe the variants are currently dominant. But since the testing was expanded in mid-January, the B117 variant has already been found in nearly 100 cases in Berlin. “There are signs that the British viral variant, the corona mutation B.1.1.7, will prevail,” Johannes Dunkert, head of the Vivantes Clinics in Berlin, told the Tagesspiegel this week, but while Germany could at least succeed in slowing the spread of the variants, The current French approach may put it on the right track to increase soon, said Morris of Berlin. Louisa Beck from Berlin contributed to this report.