Merkel to Push for Tougher Curbs in Battle to Tame Surging Virus
(Bloomberg) -- Germany is heading for harsher restrictions on movement and contact, as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government attempts to prevent the rapid spread of the coronavirus spiraling out of control.
Merkel will propose the tougher national curbs -- including measures like closing restaurants and banning major events -- to the country’s 16 state premiers at a meeting on Wednesday. Unlike the previous lockdown in the spring, every effort will be made to keep Europe’s biggest economy running and schools and daycare centers will stay open unless they are in regions with exceptionally high infection rates.
Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder said it’s vital that authorities act decisively now to avoid more pain later on, and predicted talks with Merkel and his regional counterparts that would not be “easy or pleasant.”
“It’s a meeting that matters, we must prove ourselves,” Soeder said at a news conference Tuesday in Munich. “It’s better to act straight away and in the correct way than late and half-heartedly.”
Merkel has promised to do all she can to prevent another nationwide lockdown like the one that hammered the economy in the second quarter. But with infections once again surging, she has painted an increasingly darker picture of the outbreak and called for greater urgency in the fight against the virus.
Like elsewhere in Europe, the number of new infections in Germany has shot up rapidly in recent days, and the average over the past week is well above the worst day during the initial wave in the spring.
“Covid-19 has changed almost everything,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Tuesday in Berlin. “This is something that must remind us of the urgency of concrete and effective action against a further dynamic spread.”
In a closed-door leadership meeting of Merkel’s Christian Democratic party on Monday, her Chief of Staff Helge Braun warned that cases are currently doubling every seven days and could reach 30,000 by next week, German newspaper Bild reported.
In another sign of heightened alarm, Merkel moved forward the meeting with state leaders to discuss the next steps by two days to Wednesday. The proposal marks another effort by the German leader to forge a consensus after she failed to get state premiers to accept tighter curbs in recent weeks.
In Germany, the states are responsible for most of the measures to fight the pandemic, giving Merkel limited power to combat the virus and forcing her to seek to align regional leaders.
Concern is growing across Europe that the recent surge in cases will prompt the need for tighter restrictions, thus hindering the nascent economic recovery.
Underscoring the rising urgency, six of Germany’s leading scientific research institutes issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for “clear measures that can be implemented quickly.”
“The aim is to reduce the number of cases to such an extent that health authorities can fully conduct contact follow-up again,” the heads of the institutes said. “As soon as this is possible, the restrictions could be cautiously relaxed without the immediate threat of another wave of the pandemic.”
German companies are already turning more pessimistic, potentially marking the beginning of a major setback after half a year of gradual improvements, the Ifo Institute’s business climate index published Monday suggested.
Germany’s gross domestic product will likely shrink by 5.5% this year, according to the government’s latest forecasts to be published this week, slightly less than a prediction of 5.8% made at the start of September. The Economy Ministry has delayed the publication of the updated forecasts to Friday from Wednesday.
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