German Pandemic Strategy Needs Urgent Overhaul, Merkel Ally Says
(Bloomberg) -- The leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said Germany must urgently improve its pandemic management and foster better cooperation between federal and regional authorities to help check a new “third wave” of infections.
Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and chairman of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, was one of the 16 state leaders she criticized Sunday for not imposing tough enough restrictions. Merkel threatened to assert federal authority over measures to stem Covid-19, highlighting her struggle to maintain control in the face of intransigence from the powerful regional premiers -- who in some cases have opted not to enforce curbs agreed with her administration.
Laschet, who wants to run as the conservative candidate to replace Merkel when she steps aside after September’s national election, defended his region against Merkel’s criticism, saying NRW has followed the rules laid out in Germany’s so-called “emergency brake.”
He acknowledged that the situation is dire, and said state leaders are taking it seriously, while calling for a slimmed-down and more flexible negotiating group to decide the next steps.
The most-recent meeting between the state leaders and Merkel’s government on March 22 lasted for more than 11 hours and ended well after midnight.
“We can’t continue to have the state premiers and half the federal government sitting in front of screens for hours, that’s not suitable for this crisis,” Laschet said Monday at a news conference after a meeting of the CDU leadership.
The next talks, currently scheduled for April 12, should be held in person and should involve only the 16 premiers, plus Merkel and her chief of staff, Helge Braun, and not federal officials including Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats, he added.
“I am sure that if we get additional proposals the state leaders will follow them,” Laschet told reporters. “At the moment, I don’t know of any suggestions beyond what has already been agreed between the federal government and the regions.”
Laschet appealed to citizens to “stay home and reduce contacts over Easter” to stop the disease spreading further. Germany’s seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people continued to climb on Monday, rising to 134.4 from 129.7 the previous day, according to the RKI public-health institute. It has more than doubled since falling to 56.8 on Feb. 19 from a peak of almost 200 in late December.
“We have to get away from micro-management,” Laschet said. “The bureaucracy we have in Germany is a hindrance, especially for vaccination, where are not making progress quickly enough.”
In an interview with ARD television late Sunday, Merkel expressed exasperation with what she described as broken commitments by the 16 state leaders, who have direct authority to deploy health and safety rules under the country’s federal system.
She called on them to follow existing guidelines and impose curfews, contact curbs and work-from-home rules as warranted.
“If that doesn’t happen in the very foreseeable future, you have to think about how that might be dealt with federally in a uniform way,” Merkel said. “We are bound by law to contain the infections. Right now, we don’t have containment.”
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