UPDATE 1-German states of Bavaria, Saarland close schools to slow coronavirus epidemic

epidemic@ (Adds Bavarian state premier)

BERLIN, March 13 (Reuters) - The German states of Bavaria and Saarland said on Friday they will close all schools, kindergartens and nurseries from Monday until the end of their Easter breaks in late April due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Broadcaster n-tv also reported that German capital Berlin planned to gradually close its schools and kindergartens next week when public transport systems will be reduced to a necessary minimum.

Citing mayor Michael Mueller, n-tv said the closures were due to start next Monday at secondary schools.

Calls have been growing for Germany to follow the bulk of its European neighbours in shuttering schools to help slow the spread of the virus, but in Germany's highly devolved system, only regional governments can make that call.

"The challenge is immense," Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder told a news conference.

"As of next Monday the schools and children's day-care centres will be closed - this will apply provisionally until the end of the Easter holidays, that is until April 20," he said, adding the authorities would then take stock of the situation.

Municipal elections in Bavaria on Sunday would go ahead, Soeder said, but he added that public gatherings of more than 100 people should not go ahead.

In addition to the wealthy southern state, the tiny western state of Saarland also said on Friday that it would close its schools until the end of its Easter break, on April 24. Three other states, including North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's largest, are due to decide on school closures on Friday.

Several states have already postponed the start of teaching at universities by a month into April. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Paul Carrel; editing by Thomas Seythal)

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