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HEALTH

‘Four long months’: Germany faces hard winter, warns Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday defended tough new shutdown measures her government has announced in the Covid-19 fight, while also warning against "lies and disinformation".

'Four long months': Germany faces hard winter, warns Merkel
Angela Merkel in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

The popular Merkel called on Germans to rally behind her in respecting the restrictions, and to reject those who refused to follow the established science in combatting the spread of the disease.

In her Bundestag speech on Thursday, Merkel said: “We are in a dramatic situation that affects us all. Without exception.”

On Wednesday Merkel and state leaders agreed on a shutdown across Germany to take place from November 2nd until the end of the month. It will see the closures of restaurants and leisure facilities but schools and shops will remain open.

Merkel said health authorities in Germany are already overburdened by the Covid-19 spread, and that 75 percent of infections can no longer be traced.

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If the increase in cases continues at this rate, intensive care wards would soon be overburdened, said the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) politician. The tough new measures being adopted are therefore “appropriate, necessary and proportionate”.

The aim is to have a “systematic reduction of contacts” in the population, said Merkel. Health workers need to be able to trace the chains of infection. That's the only way the risk of outbreaks can be reduced, she said.

'The pandemic will end'

Merkel said the pandemic is putting society to the test, in medical, political, economic and social terms.

Germany would only be able to meet this challenge with cohesion and a willingness to support each other.

Only “with and for each other” could Germany get through “this historical crisis”, said Merkel. “The winter will be hard. Four long, hard months. But it will end.” 

The Chancellor praised the work of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control and reminded her audience to use the coronavirus app.

Merkel showed understanding for restaurant, bar, hotel and cafe workers who are concerned about the renewed closures: “I understand the frustration, indeed the desperation, especially in these areas, very much.”

Many restaurant bosses have drawn up hygiene and safety plans, and were now wondering whether all this had been pointless, she said. However, these concepts would soon be needed again, Merkel stressed.

'Lies and disinformation damage debate'

Merkel warned that propaganda and conspiracy theories undermine the fight against the pandemic.

“Let me be clear: lies and disinformation, conspiracy and hatred damage not only democratic debate but also the fight against the coronavirus,” she told the lower house of parliament.

The Chancellor was interrupted during her speech by heckling from far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party members. It prompted a rare intervention from speaker of the house Wolfgang Schäuble, who threatened unruly MPs with penalties.

Germany came through the first phase of the pandemic better than most of its neighbours, with the total number of deaths now at just over 10,000 in the European Union's most populous country.

But it has been rocked by a series of often large demonstrations against government measures to tame the virus, with activists from the political fringe accusing Merkel of exploiting the pandemic for a power grab.

Merkel pushed back hard against such claims, calling populism “not only unrealistic but also irresponsible”.

“The things that have been proved wrong by science must be called out,” she said.

Merkel is at the height of her popularity as her fourth and final term in office comes to a close next year.

“Freedom does not mean that everyone does what they want, but that everyone has a responsibility,” she said.

In her statement, Merkel also referred to the dramatic situation in other EU countries, which are struggling with a rapid increase in new infections. However, the Chancellor emphasised that Europe is better prepared this time than it was in spring to keep the restrictions on the European internal market as low as possible.

Merkel's Bundestag speech is the third since the beginning of the pandemic. It was followed by a 90 minute debate between political parties.

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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