‘The effort is paying off’: Merkel defends stricter shutdown in Germany

On Thursday, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) defended Germany's extended and stricter lockdown, stressing that now is the time to take action.

'The effort is paying off': Merkel defends stricter shutdown in Germany
Merkel speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning.

The current picture on how well Germany is coping with the pandemic is very mixed, she said at a press conference in Berlin on Thursday.

On the one hand, new infections were finally declining, reaching their lowest level since lockdown measures were first introduced at the beginning of November. 

READ ALSO: Germany sees significant drop in new Covid-19 cases but deaths remain high

“That shows that the hard measures that people in Germany have had to deal with for weeks are starting to pay off. And it basically shows that the effort is paying off,” Merkel said. 

But at the same time, she said, the daily death toll is frighteningly high. 

“These are not just numbers, these are people who have died in loneliness, these are fates, these are families who mourn them,” the Chancellor continued.

On Tuesday, Germany extended and tightened a shutdown in place since November 1st, also imposing measures such as mandatory wearing of surgical face masks on public transport. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you should know about Germany's stricter shutdown measures

‘Eventually overcoming the virus’

Merkel said that the stricter measures were also put in place to stem the spread of mutated virus variants. 

A mutated virus is many times more infectious than the known one, she said. One mutation, which is widespread in the UK and South Africa, has already been detected in Germany. The country also suspects that there are other variants of the mutation.

If Germany were to hold off on taking further action, a third, possibly even more violent wave of the pandemic might not be prevented, Merkel warned. 

“We can still prevent it,” she said about the mutation spread in Germany. “There is still some time to prevent the danger inherent in this mutated virus.”

All additional restrictions, she said, were for the sake of precaution for the country, for the health of those living there, and also for the economy and culture.

“Everything serves the goal of getting the pandemic under control this year and eventually overcoming it,” Merkel said. 

On Thursday morning, the number of Covid-19 infections per 100,000 residents in seven days (the 7-day incidence) stood at 119.0 – the lowest level since November 1st.

German health offices reported 20,398 new coronavirus infections within one day to the RKI on Thursday morning. A total of 1,013 people died from or with Covid-19 during this time period.

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Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.