Merkel Calls Easter Shutdown a ‘Mistake’ in Rare Apology
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a rare public apology after she was forced to abandon a five-day hard lockdown over Easter just 33 hours after announcing it, throwing her government’s management of the pandemic further into disarray.
Merkel dropped the proposal, calling it a “mistake,” after a hastily-arranged video conference on Wednesday with the heads of the country’s 16 states. She defended what would have been one of Germany’s toughest steps since the start of the pandemic but said there wasn’t enough time to implement it properly.
“To be absolutely clear, this mistake is solely and alone my mistake as in the end I am the one who carries the final responsibility,” she told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday, acknowledging that the episode will increase uncertainty. “I deeply regret this and ask all citizens for forgiveness,” Merkel said.
The withdrawal means Germany remains under restrictions that were gradually loosened before a third wave of infections gripped Europe’s largest economy. Merkel and state leaders extended the measures until April 18 earlier this week.
Germany is also looking into imposing restrictions on travel to foreign holiday destinations, Merkel’s spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said later on Wednesday at a regular government news conference.
The current lockdown curbs, which have effectively been in place for four months, are relatively mild compared to other countries and include the partial closing of non-essential stores and the shutdown of hotels, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues.
The Easter lockdown was the only fresh initiative after more than 11 hours of tense discussions that ended early Tuesday. The plan spurred widespread criticism, caught officials off guard and created confusion over the implementation.
Germany has struggled to lay out a clear plan in the face of a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases and amid a sluggish vaccination campaign. That’s causing public frustration over the government’s handling of the crisis to grow just six months before a national election.
Merkel’s conservative bloc -- also struggling with a scandal over lawmakers profiting off the pandemic -- has tumbled in the polls. Its lead over the second-placed Greens narrowed to 8 percentage points this week, according to a polling average calculated by Bloomberg.
Merkel refused to call a confidence vote, which members of the opposition had called for.
“I will not do that,” Merkel told public broadcaster ARD in an interview late Wednesday, adding that she has the support of the federal government as well as the parliament. “It’s much more important that we get this third wave under control.”
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the SPD’s chancellor candidate, said the decision to shutter businesses over the Easter weekend was made jointly and all governing parties shared responsibility. “I hope that no one will have a memory gap about this later,” he said at a news conference.
Armin Laschet, the head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and a leading contender to be the conservative bloc’s chancellor candidate, said backing off the Easter lockdown was the right thing to do.
“You can’t just introduce a public holiday within ten days,” he told lawmakers in North Rhine-Westphalia, where he is also state premier.
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