“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.
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.
“I really am sorry, from the bottom of my heart. But if the price we pay is 590 deaths a day then this in unacceptable.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel begs Germans to follow coronavirus restrictions in an unusually emotional appeal ahead of Christmas. pic.twitter.com/dNRge9cvdJ
— DW News (@dwnews) December 9, 2020
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.
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”.
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.