UPDATE: Merkel avoids handshakes as Germany coronavirus cases reach 157

Germany's interior minister rebuffed Chancellor Angela Merkel's attempt to shake hands with him on Monday as the number of novel coronavirus cases in the country rose to 157 with Berlin reporting its first infection.

UPDATE: Merkel avoids handshakes as Germany coronavirus cases reach 157
On Friday Merkel held up her hands at a reception in Stralsund to gesture that she did not want to shake anyone's hands. Photo: DPA

When Merkel reached out to greet Horst Seehofer at a meeting on migration in Berlin, he smiled and kept both his hands to himself.

They both laughed and Merkel then threw her hand up in the air before taking a seat – a gesture which the chancellor have been making over the last week.

Health experts have recommended avoiding handshakes as a way of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Five key questions about the coronavirus answered

There are now 157 confirmed cases in Germany, Lothar Weiler of the Robert Koch Institute disease control agency said on Monday morning — up from 129 the previous day. The first infection in Berlin was also announced on late Sunday evening.

The alert level has been raised from “low to moderate” to “moderate,” Weiler said, with authorities saying there was no need for drastic measures like border closure to stem the contagion.

On Tuesday evening, Germany saw its first new cases in over a month – since the first cases emerged in Bavaria in January – and within a week grew to one of the most affected countries in Europe.

Graph prepared for The Local by Statista.

The virus has now spread to 10 of Germany's 16 states, with more than half the confirmed cases in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Germany's most populous state emerged as a hotspot after an infected couple attended carnival celebrations there, infecting dozens of people.

Carmaker BMW confirmed on Monday that one of its employees in Munich has  tested positive for the virus.

Staff who have had close contact with the man have been asked to  self-quarantine for 14 days, a spokeswoman said, and affected areas have been sealed off and disinfected.

Amid growing fears over contagion, disinfectants, hand sanitisers and other protective products have sold out in many German shops.

In Lower Saxony, 1,200 protective face masks were stolen from a hospital in the town of Sulingen near Bremen, news agency DPA reported on Monday, citing local police.

The hospital reported the theft after a stock check revealed that the masks were missing from a storage room.

Germany has cancelled several major gatherings in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, including this week's ITB travel trade fair in Berlin and the smaller Berlin Travel Festival, which was scheduled to take place this upcoming weekend.

Health Mininster Jens Spahn stressed on Monday that it was too early to say whether further public events would be cancelled.

With panic setting in, security at Bundesliga football club RB Leipzig threw out a group of Japanese fans, forcing the team to apologise on Monday.

The group were removed from the stadium by security about 10 minutes into the game against Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.

The club said its security had made a “mistake” after being asked to carry out extra checks on people from potential risk areas.

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German Chancellor Scholz tests positive for Covid after Gulf tour

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has tested positive for the coronavirus and is displaying mild symptoms after returning from a tour of the Gulf, his spokesman said Monday.

German Chancellor Scholz tests positive for Covid after Gulf tour

The 64-year-old Social Democrat is isolating in his apartment in the chancellery, and will attend meetings online, spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

At the weekend, he visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar on a hunt for new energy sources after Russia cut gas supplies amid tensions over the Ukraine war.

He signed a deal Sunday for the UAE to supply natural gas and diesel to Germany.

READ ALSO: UAE to supply Germany with gas and diesel 

Meanwhile Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, also of the SPD, announced via Twitter on Monday that she had tested positive for Covid.