Merkel Ties Pandemic Exit to Immunization Rates of Over 60%

Chancellor Angela Merkel tied an exit from the coronavirus pandemic to immunizing more than 60% of the population, indicating a long fight still ahead.

Germany is targeting so-called herd immunity, which means most of the population is resistant to the disease, Merkel said Wednesday in Germany’s lower house of parliament, as a hard shutdown takes effect across Europe’s largest economy.

Merkel Ties Pandemic Exit to Immunization Rates of Over 60%

The German leader has hinted that stringent restrictions, which are set to run until Jan. 10, will remain in force longer. The country’s daily death toll jumped on Wednesday to a record 910 people, the latest reminder of the risks posed by Covid-19.

Merkel told her parliamentary caucus that Germany faces a new peak of infections next month and predicted that the first two months of 2021 will be particularly tough, according to a participant in the virtual meeting Tuesday. The nation is heading toward a seven-day incidence rate of 200 cases per 100,000 people, four times the level the government has determined to be manageable, she said.

Europe’s biggest economy began a strict lockdown on Wednesday, with non-essential stores closed, employers urged to shutter workplaces where possible and parents encouraged to keep children away from school. The tougher rules follow weeks of a partial shutdown, delivering a blow to Germany’s recovery and an extension could deepen the impact.

Merkel Ties Pandemic Exit to Immunization Rates of Over 60%

Despite the German government’s aggressive spending to prop up the economy, the fallout from the pandemic will likely depress business activity and lead to company failures, according to the head of the DIW economic institute.

“One of the biggest risks for the German economy is a wave of corporate bankruptcies next year,” Marcel Fratzscher, DIW’s president, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “It’s not the question of whether it’s going to come. It’s more a question of when exactly companies will fail,” he said, adding that the thinktank is forecasting a contraction in the German economy in the first quarter.

Merkel Ties Pandemic Exit to Immunization Rates of Over 60%

As the restrictions take effect, fatalities surged to more than 900 in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, well above Friday’s previous record of 604 and taking the total beyond 23,000. The number of new cases rose by 21,456, to 1.38 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The seven-day incidence rate has risen sharply in the past few weeks and currently is at a peak of 180 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the RKI public health institute. Officials have said the rate needs to come down to 50 and stay there to allow effective contact tracing.

Germany is in the uncomfortably position of tightening restrictions after some countries such as France and the U.K. imposed stricter curbs earlier and are now gradually easing. Still, there are concerns across the continent that Christmas celebrations could lead to a renewed spike in infections.

Merkel Ties Pandemic Exit to Immunization Rates of Over 60%

Merkel will meet in early January with regional leaders to evaluate the impact of the measures and could move to extend the lockdown then. German law requires the government to reassess a nationwide lockdown every four weeks.

The chancellor told her caucus lawmakers that it’s impossible to develop a long-term strategy to tackle the pandemic because there are still too many unknowns.

She appealed to regional leaders to stick to lockdown rules, warning that failure to do so would risk extending them even longer. She said it’s too early to tell when the pandemic will be over, damping optimism that the expected European approval of a Covid-19 vaccine next week could quickly provide a way out of the crisis.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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