Merkel Backs Potential Heir in Call for Stricter German Lockdown
(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a growing chorus of voices backing a call from the leader of her party for stricter, short-term curbs to contain Germany’s resurgent coronavirus outbreak.
A hard two- to three-week shutdown is needed to get Germany’s incidence rate under control, Armin Laschet, the chairman of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said Tuesday.
“Another effort is required” to lower the infection rate, a Merkel spokesman said when asked about the proposal. “Clarity on how to get there” will be needed in the coming days, he added.
The spokesman didn’t respond directly to Laschet’s proposal that Merkel and state leaders meet this week to discuss pandemic strategy, instead of next Monday as scheduled. The gatherings are critical because authority over schools, health care and other institutions affected by the policies are under the control of regional officials in Germany’s federal system.
With national elections looming in September, politicians have been reluctant to impose new restrictions and have struggled to formulate a clear plan. But with the contagion rate above 100 for more than two weeks and intensive-care units filling up again, pressure is mounting to take action.
Laschet, who is hoping to run as the conservative candidate to replace Merkel as chancellor, suggested that after what he called a short “bridge lockdown,” restrictions could be cautiously lifted as vaccinations gather pace and increased testing allows more businesses to reopen.
“The incidence rate is still too high,” Laschet -- also the premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia -- told public broadcaster ZDF. “My proposal is for another big effort.”
Bringing the number of infections below 100 per 100,000 people over seven days would allow the more long-term easing which is “what we’re all hoping for so much,” said Laschet, who has previously backed a looser pandemic policy.
Ralph Brinkhaus, another CDU member who is the head of Merkel’s conservative caucus in parliament, told the Funke media group that Laschet’s proposal was “correct” and called for a swift decision from federal and regional authorities. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrat chancellor candidate, also indicated he was open to tougher restrictions.
While some municipalities with lower incidence rates are experimenting with allowing business to reopen, others are tightening policies. In Hamburg, a curfew has been in force since the Easter weekend from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. In Berlin, people can only leave their homes alone or with one other person at night.
Merkel apologized for the confusion caused after she was forced to withdraw proposals for a hard lockdown over Easter. Public discontent with her government’s management of the crisis has led to the conservative CDU/CSU bloc slumping in opinion polls and its lead over the second-placed Greens is shrinking with the election less than six months away.
Germany’s incidence rate began rising again in mid-February. On Tuesday, the figure slipped to 123 from as high as 135 last week, though the country’s RKI public-health institute warned that testing and reporting probably slowed over the Easter break.
Michael Mueller, the Social Democrat mayor of Berlin and current head of the conference of regional leaders, rejected the idea of bringing the next round of talks with Merkel forward, saying late Monday that Laschet’s proposals lacked detail.
Laschet’s call for tighter curbs -- including nighttime curfews and more working from home -- may be right in principle, Clemens Fuest, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research, said in an interview on ARD television late Monday.
However, Fuest noted that it comes just two weeks after state leaders failed to agree on a lockdown before Easter despite warnings from experts over resurgent infections.
“The whole thing seems totally haphazard,” he said.
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