Germany has recorded its highest number of coronavirus infections for three months, fuelling fears that health authorities are losing control over the spread of the pandemic.

The Robert Koch Institute, the main public health advisory body, has registered 1,045 new cases in the past 24 hours. The country now has 8,700 active cases.

The increase coincides with the return of hundreds of thousands of Germans from their summer holidays, often from high risk areas, as well as with the start of the school year in several of the 16 states.

The health minister, Jens Spahn, has held an emergency press conference in Berlin to address the concerns. He said:

We’re not living in normal times. The pandemic is still there – it will continue to be there.

Spahn said he believed many Germans had been lulled into a false sense of security, “having a deceptive feeling that it’s not all that bad” and had relaxed their behaviour accordingly.

Dealing with the virus was a daily challenge for everyone. “Every day we must find the balance between safety and trying to deal with day to day life,” he said.

Spahn stressed he was determined that schools and nurseries should not be affected in case the infection rate continued to rise. He said it was far more likely that there would be tighter restrictions on gatherings – including on their size and type, but did not foresee the closure of shops.

German health minister Jens Spahn has warned that it may become harder to control the virus spread in autumn. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

While the return of Germans from their holidays is increasingly contributing to the rise in new cases, far more prevalent in the statistics were domestic events, he said.

Family parties, religious celebrations and work environments, such as meat processing plants, have been responsible for small outbreaks across the country. Community facilities, such as care homes had also seen an increase in cases, he said.

Spahn has announced that obligatory tests for people returning from areas considered high risk by the RKI, currently numbered at around 130, will start at sea ports, airports and other border crossings, on Saturday. Those tested would be obliged to remain in quarantine until the test result was shown to be positive.

Health authorities could order a second test depending on where the person had travelled from. Those who resist being tested, would be fined, he said, calling the measures “a reasonable intrusion into someone’s privacy … we have a duty as a society to look after each other … Freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility”.

Spahn said longer-term consensus is being sought among EU countries, to require travellers to produce a negative test result before boarding planes headed for the EU.

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