Merkel makes emotional plea for tougher curbs as Covid-19 deaths in Germany break record

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday demanded tougher restrictions to bring down coronavirus infections, as the German death toll reached a grim daily record of nearly 600 people.

Merkel makes emotional plea for tougher curbs as Covid-19 deaths in Germany break record
Angela Merkel in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

“When Glühwein (mulled wine) stands are being built, when waffle stands are being built, that's not compatible with what we had agreed of only takeaways for food and drinks,” she told parliament, in reference to traditional German Christmas markets.

“I am really sorry from the bottom of my heart… but if the price we pay is 590 deaths a day then then that, in my view, is not acceptable.”

“We must do everything we can to ensure that we do not again experience exponential growth,” said Merkel, in her emotional speech before the debate on the budget.

Germany has ordered far less stringent shutdown rules than other major European nations after coming through the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed.

But Europe's biggest economy has been severely hit by a second wave with daily new infections more than three times that of the peak in the spring.

ANALYSIS: Just how effective has Germany's partial lockdown been?

Daily death tolls have been climbing, reaching a record of 590 on Wednesday.

The Chancellor said she therefore considered it the right move to enter a tougher shutdown with less in-person teaching in schools and non-essential shop closures after Christmas until at least January 10th.

To this end, she said winter holidays should be extended or move to digital classes. Merkel said she planned to talk to Germany's 16 states about tightening measures.

Due to Germany being a federal country, states have the final say on education as well as how to implement coronavirus measures although the federal government can provide recommendations.

It comes after members of Germany's National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, which has been advising leaders on how to deal with the crisis, published an urgent appeal to politicians in view of the alarming situation in the Bundesrepublik.

They called for a tougher lockdown in Germany to deal with the worsening coronavirus situation.

READ ALSO: Scientists plead for 'hard lockdown' in Germany as fears grow over Covid-19 spike at Christmas

Merkel backed the recommendations by the Academy.

She also said it was wrong for states to allow hotels to accommodate relatives at Christmas. This creates “incentives” to travel, Merkel said. At present, tourists are not allowed to stay in hotels, but some states, including Berlin, will make exceptions for the holidays.

'You can't ignore facts'

Urging Germans to heed the experts' call, Merkel said people could not pick and choose when to accept the science.

“What I am very sure about is that one can overturn many things, but not gravity, speed of light and other facts,” said the trained physicist.

“Because the numbers are what they are, we must do something about them.”

With an eye on Christmas when families are expected to gather, Merkel said people have a responsibility to significantly reduce social contact.

“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and it ends up being the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we'd really have failed. We should not do this,” said the Chancellor.

It is “a little inhuman” to distance oneself from other people, she acknowledged – but that is not something “that totally destroys our lives”.

The target must remain to reach 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days in Germany, she said. The number currently is around 140.

“Otherwise the pandemic will slip through our fingers again and again,” said Merkel. Although the restrictions in force since November 2nd had been able to stop the exponential growth, they had not succeeded in reversing the trend.

“The number of contacts is too high, the reduction of contacts is not sufficient,” said the Chancellor.

Merkel said she was convinced that most of the German population would keep complying with rules to contain the virus.

“The large majority of the population has shown that it is prepared to show consideration, to put its own interests aside, to go along with the action,” she said.

Merkel said people would continue to recognise “that we are confronted with an extraordinary situation here”.

'Exceptional situation'

Merkel defended the government's budget plans, which include high new debts.

“We are living in an exceptional situation,” she said, “and we have to do something to ensure that we take special action in this special situation, and this budget expresses that”.

Germany, she said, was an economically strong, democratic country with social cohesion and a strong civil society. “This strength, that is what guides us in this budget, that is what we want to maintain even in this exceptional situation,” said Merkel.

A decision to take on debt on this scale was “anything but easy”, the Chancellor admitted. It places a burden on future budgets and restricts future expenditure as well as future generations.

But the government had to make “difficult and painful decisions” in the pandemic, Merkel said.

READ ALSO: Merkel says Germany 'won't get through winter' with current Covid-19 measures


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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