BERLIN - Germany approved three COVID-19 tests for home use as part Health Minister Jens Spahn's strategy to help Europe's biggest economy emerge from a lockdown that has been in place since mid-December. The infection rate in Germany fell steadily in the first weeks of the year but has stagnated in recent days, making it more difficult for leaders to ease restrictions when they meet next week to consider lockdown rules that run to March 7. Chancellor Angela Merkel has told lawmakers in her conservative party that making rapid tests more available and boosting testing capacity could make a return to normality more durable, two sources at the meeting told Reuters on Tuesday. The government expects such tests will cost it up to 810 million euros ($985 million) a month for 30 million to 45 million tests, according to documents obtained by Reuters. The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, Germany's pharmaceutical regulator, on Wednesday approved antigen tests made by Healgen Scientific, Xiamen Boson Biotech and Hangzhou Laihe Biotech for use by people who are not medical professionals, according to its website. Spahn told broadcaster ZDF earlier that further home test kits would be approved next week. Other countries are also banking on home tests to help limit the spread of the virus. In Austria, self-tests are already being used in schools, and they will be available to the public for free at pharmacies from next week. In England, volunteers and police have handed out COVID-19 testing kits to try to halt the spread of a highly infectious variant that originated in South Africa. In Germany, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 8,007 to 2,402,818, an increase of 451 compared with a week ago. The infection rate rose to 59.3 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, from 57 a week earlier. ($1 = 0.8222 euros) REUTERS
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