In an interview with the ARD broadcaster on Sunday night, Merkel had called several states out for failing to impose “emergency brake” rules requiring renewed restrictions for regions with high incidence rates.
She also directly criticised the chief of her CDU party Armin Laschet, who is also state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, for “choosing an implementation that carries too much room for manoeuvre”.
But Laschet on Monday hit back against the criticism, saying it “doesn’t help us if the federal government and states are pushing responsibility to each other”.
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He insisted that all 16 state premiers are “taking this very seriously”. “Everyone wants the number of infections to go down and everyone has taken the appropriate measures for their state, which are very different,” he said.
He also defended Tobias Hans, state premier of Saarland, who had been heavily criticised over his plans to end a shutdown as early as April 6th.
At a tense meeting last week, Merkel and the regional leaders had agreed to stick to national rules including strict shutdowns and curfews in areas with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days.
But under Germany’s federal system, each state can ultimately decide its own rules and some have failed to impose curfews and gone ahead with reopening measures, despite fierce criticism.
The small southwestern state of Saarland has said it plans to end its shutdown completely and open leisure, sports and entertainment facilities after Easter to those who can provide a negative test.
Asked if Laschet’s actions in North Rhine-Westphalia went against what was agreed, Merkel said: “There are several states that have taken a very broad interpretation, and that does not fill me with joy.”
The rapid spread of the British coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 has led to an exponential growth in new cases in Germany in recent weeks, just as the country was taking first steps towards reopening.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency reported 9,872 new cases in 24 hours on Monday and a national incidence rate of 134.4 per 100,000 people over the last seven days.
The spiralling infection rates and a sluggish vaccine rollout have led to plummeting support for Merkel’s CDU-CSU conservative alliance just six months ahead of a general election.
A poll for the Bild daily on Sunday placed the conservatives on just 25 percent, their lowest level for a year and well below the record low result of 32.9 percent they secured at the 2017 elections.