Merkel Urges Discipline as Germany Grapples With Record Cases

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to remain disciplined in the fight against the coronavirus, as the country grapples with a renewed rise in cases and fatalities from the disease.

In her last New Year’s address, the German leader -- who will step down after elections in September -- said perseverance would be needed during a harsh winter as a vaccination campaign ramps up. Amid concerns about its safety, she said she would get the shot as soon as it’s her turn.

“These days and weeks -- there is nothing to sugar-coat -- are difficult times for our country,” Merkel said in the text of a speech to be broadcast late Thursday. “And so it will continue to be for quite a while.”

Merkel Urges Discipline as Germany Grapples With Record Cases

Germany is struggling to contain the spread of Covid-19, like many of its European neighbors. Daily infections rose to a record of 49,044 on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of fatalities jumped by another 963, one day after deaths exceeded 1,000 for the first time. Intensive care units threaten to become overloaded and contagion rates are more than double government targets.

It’s a similar story in other European countries. Spain on Wednesday said 9,860 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed, the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this week, Covid-19 fatalities in the country surpassed 50,000.

Merkel’s comments indicate that restrictions to contain the disease will continue beyond Jan. 10, when most curbs are currently set to expire. The chancellor and the premiers of Germany’s 16 states want to extend the hard lockdown -- which keeps non-essential stores, gyms and restaurants shut -- by another two or three weeks at a meeting next week, Bild newspaper reported Thursday.

Even though vaccines will gradually be made available across the population, “the tasks ahead remain gigantic,” Merkel said, urging Germans to show the same solidarity and discipline next year that had gotten them through the pandemic so far.

Merkel Urges Discipline as Germany Grapples With Record Cases

Europe’s largest economy has provided relatively generous aid packages to help businesses cushion the blow from lockdown rules. The spending has caused total new borrowing this year and next to balloon to over 300 billion euros ($369 billion), creating tensions within Merkel’s coalition.

Merkel defended the spending, saying state aid helped ease uncertainty and even “existential fears” for people like shop owners, freelancers and artists.

The somber tone belies a successful close to Germany’s European Union presidency. At the tail end of the six-month term, Merkel helped secure backing for the bloc’s landmark spending and recovery package, finalized a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. and completed an investment pact with China.

Her final full year in office was probably her toughest.

“Never in the last 15 years have any of us felt the outgoing year to be so weary,” Merkel said.

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