Merkel Urges Germans to Stick to ‘Wave Breaker’ Virus Curbs
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the coronavirus pandemic a once-in-a-century challenge, urging people to abide by hygiene and distancing rules so that health-care services don’t collapse.
“This is a very big test of our resolve, one that we haven’t had since World War II,” Merkel said Monday after a meeting of Germany’s virus task force.
The government imposed a partial lockdown to regain control of the spread of the disease, which risks overwhelming hospitals in Europe’s biggest economy. The measures, which started on Monday, are aimed at reducing social contact and include closing bars and restaurants while keeping schools and daycares open in an effort to allow most businesses to operate.
Merkel said the new curbs could help Germany mark a “turning point” in the battle against the pandemic.
“If we stick it out rigorously for a month, then this can be a wave breaker,” the German leader said. “That means for four weeks renouncing a lot of things that make life beautiful.”
After vowing repeatedly to avoid the stringent national restrictions that hammered the economy in the spring, Merkel pushed for the tougher curbs despite resistance from some German states. The country’s long-time leader was lauded for a quick response to the pandemic but failed to keep the country in line over the summer, setting the stage for the current outbreak.
Merkel said the measures were unavoidable as cases rise and hospitals fill up, noting the virus spreads more easily during colder weather, which will grip Germany through March.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is still rather far away,” she said.
The restrictions will lower German output by 19 billion euros ($22.1 billion), leading to a contraction of 1% in the final quarter of 2020, according to an estimate from the Berlin-based DIW research institute.
Germany has the financial resources to compensate for the losses, Merkel said, adding that the short-term costs will pay off in in the long run.
“Making it through the pandemic well is the best for the economy,” the chancellor said.
The latest measures are aimed at reducing the spread of the disease to less than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, which would allow authorities to again track infections back to the source. Germany is currently at more than double that rate.
Merkel will meet with state leaders in mid-November to review the impact of the limits. While the goal is to ease curbs in December ahead of the crucial Christmas shopping season, authorities have opened the door to an extension.
“As long as the numbers don’t go down, there will still be restrictions,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said Monday in an interview with broadcaster NTV.
A key concern is the rapid increase in severely sick patients. Health Minister Jens Spahn noted that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has almost tripled in the past two weeks to over than 2,000.
“We have to break this trend, jointly and resolutely,” Spahn, who himself tested positive for the disease last month, said on Twitter.
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