Merkel Urges Germans to Help Stop Virus ‘Worst-Case Scenario’

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to do more to rein in the coronavirus to avoid the “worst-case scenario” of an overburdened health care system.

Speaking in parliament Thursday after extending a partial lockdown until at least Dec. 20, Merkel said restrictions will likely remain in place until early January. On a more upbeat note, she said it’s possible that a vaccine for the virus will be available before Christmas.

“We undoubtedly have some difficult months ahead of us again,” Merkel told lawmakers on Thursday.

Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed late Wednesday to tighten limits on private gatherings but kept schools and most businesses operating to help limit the impact on the economy. Merkel’s Chief of Staff, Helge Braun, told RTL there’s even a chance that restrictions will remain in place until March if the disease isn’t reined in.

Merkel Urges Germans to Help Stop Virus ‘Worst-Case Scenario’

There’s no sign of that happening at the moment. Germany registered a record increase in new coronavirus cases during the 24 hours through Thursday morning, bringing the total to just under 1 million. Fatalities, meanwhile, have exceeded 300 for three straight days, the first time that’s occurred since the start of the pandemic.

With infection rates surging, German authorities this month ordered restaurants, gyms and cinemas to close. Nations like France and Britain imposed tougher restrictions, and with outbreaks there easing, officials are cautiously moving to loosen curbs ahead of the Christmas holidays.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that he will gradually lift a nationwide lockdown from Saturday, while restrictions in the U.K. will be eased over Christmas to allow as many as three households to meet indoors.

By contrast, Germany’s restrictions have yielded little progress in slowing the spread of the disease. Infection levels are still nearly three times the government’s target rate, and people with the disease in intensive care are at record levels.

Merkel Urges Germans to Help Stop Virus ‘Worst-Case Scenario’

”The case numbers have stagnated at far too high a level,” Merkel said. She wants the seven-day incidence per 100,000 citizens to come down to around 50 -- and stay there -- before restrictions can be loosened. It was at 140 on Wednesday, according to the latest report from the RKI public health institute.

The chancellor and state premiers will revisit the country’s restrictions on Dec. 15.

Shutdown Measures

Germany extended and tightened its “lockdown light.” Here are the key changes:

  • Restaurants, cinemas and gyms remain closed through at least Dec. 20
  • Financial aid to affected businesses to continue for December
  • Stores with more than 800 square meters (8,600 square feet) required to limit customers to one per 20 square meters
  • Face-mask requirements expanded to:
    • Public areas, enclosed rooms and in offices
    • Store parking lots and in front of shops
  • Social gatherings to be limited to five people from two households, plus children under 14
  • The required number of days in quarantine will be reduced from 14 to 10, if there has been a negative test
  • Stiffer rules to be applied in areas with more than 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days
  • Special holiday rules:
    • For Christmas, gatherings of 10 friends or family members, plus children under 14, allowed
    • New Year’s fireworks banned in busy areas

An extension of the partial lockdown isn’t likely enough to reach the target rate by Christmas, according to the Ifo research institute. A more rapid decrease would require tougher measures for schools, retailers or both, the group said.

The costs for the shutdown -- including reimbursing affected businesses for most of their lost revenue -- continue to mount. Financial support in December is expected to total as much as 20 billion euros ($23.8 billion), according to people familiar with the negotiations. That could more than double total aid since early November to some 34 billion euros.

Merkel said that ultimately, German citizens will determine how successful the country is in tackling the health crisis. “It’s in our hands. We are not powerless,” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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