“We are experiencing quite extraordinary times,” said the Chancellor while addressing the Bundestag on Thursday, adding that life under the conditions imposed to stem the spread of coronavirus in Germany had already been going on for some time.
Under the measures introduced in March, gatherings of more than two people in public are banned while pubs and restaurants are closed.
All of Germany's states have also now opted to make face masks on public transport mandatory – with some extending the obligation to shops, too.
“Nobody likes to hear this: we are not in the final phase of this pandemic; we're just at the beginning,” Merkel said. “We will have to live with it for a long time yet.”
Merkel said that even as the rate of coronavirus infections slowed, the country was on the “thinnest of thin ice”, underlining how fragile the situation is.
On Thursday morning, Germany had registered more than 150,600 confirmed coronavirus infections, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.
Of that total, 5,315 people have died and 103,300 people have recovered.
'Let's not risk a setback'
The Chancellor praised the way people in Germany had stuck to social distancing rules, saying the decisions to limit freedoms had not been easy for her, but they were necessary.
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“Hardly any other decision in my time as Chancellor has been as difficult for me as the restriction of personal liberties,” she said. Merkel added that the loneliness and difficult times people may be experiencing because of the pandemic weighs on her.
Germany has taken its first steps to loosening the lockdown this week, with many shops reopening.
Merkel and the 16 leaders of Germany's states decided on a plan for exiting lockdown last week – but federal states have been drawing up their own timetables.
Merkel said she was “worried” that some of the states were easing restrictions too quickly. On Monday The veteran leader warned against “discussion orgies” about opening up society.
She had urged Germans instead to stay disciplined in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let's not gamble what we've achieved and risk a setback,” said Merkel on Thursday, reiterating the message.
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Merkel also praised hospital staff and others on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, such as public service workers.
“Our health care system has stood the test so far,” she said. “Every corona patient receives the best treatment possible.”
The Chancellor added that Germany would take more steps to produce personal protective gear for hospital staff.
Merkel also said Germany was ready to pay into a “significantly higher” EU budget to help the bloc cope with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking ahead of crunch talks between EU leaders on a giant rescue package, Merkel said: “In the spirit of solidarity, we should be prepared to make completely different, that is to say significantly higher contributions to the European budget over a set period.”