Merkel defends looming shutdown: Covid cases have ‘skyrocketed’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel defended a return to sweeping nationwide restrictions and closures in Germany next month, stressing that the nation faces “a dramatic situation” and has to act fast to shield the health service from crisis.

New infections have “skyrocketed,” Merkel said in a statement to parliament just one day after she and the country’s 16 state premiers agreed to tough new restrictions and business closures to curb the spread of the virus.

“Such dynamics will overburden our intensive care units in a few weeks’ time,” she said.

“We are in a dramatic situation at the beginning of the winter season,” Merkel said. “It affects us all. Without exception.”

Germany has recorded 16,774 new coronavirus infections over a 24-hour period, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control said on Thursday, marking the country’s highest daily increase since the pandemic began.

This brings the total number of cases so far to 481,013. The institute gave the death toll as 10,272, an increase of 89 compared to the previous day.

Germany’s federal and state governments agreed on Wednesday to a shutdown for the month of November in a bid to get the situation under control before Christmas.

Cultural and recreational facilities will shut as well as restaurants and bars, and outdoor gatherings will be limited to members of no more than two households, with a maximum of 10 people. The sweeping restrictions come into effect on Monday.

Fans will also be banned from top-level football matches in the Bundesliga, amateur sport will not take place, and gyms, pools, cosmetic studios, massage parlours and tattoo studios will have to close.

The announcement of the new restrictions has led to concerns for businesses already struggling after the first round of closures seen in March and April.

Christian Lindner, leader of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), has been a vocal critic of the shutdown and led calls on Thursday for the looming restrictions to be put to a vote in parliament.

“Many closures are not necessary for protecting public health, they are unfair to people,” Lindner said, adding that financial aid planned for affected businesses were little comfort.

Restaurants, cinemas and other places that have introduced hygiene concepts in recent months have argued that they are not the main source of infections, pointing the finger instead to private gatherings in people’s homes.

But Merkel countered that with the source of infection no longer trackable in 75 per cent of new cases, it had become impossible to say where exactly the virus was spreading.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) expressed its opposition to the shutdown.

“We view the paralysis of cultural industry, gastronomy, and practically the entire social life of citizens, as announced by Frau Merkel, as excessive and inappropriate,” said Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD’s parliamentary group.

Merkel welcomed the discussion in parliament, noting that “critical debate doesn’t weaken democracy, it strengthens it.”

However, she defended the November shutdown as “suitable, necessary and proportionate.”

If Germany were to wait until its intensive care units were full, “it would be too late,” Merkel said.

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