Berlin German federal and state governments agreed to impose tough new restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus as a second wave hits the country. The decision caused a heated debate in the Bundestag. Chancellor Merkel defended the decision, saying critical feedback is both appropriate and important, but so are the new measures.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the tough new measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic, and told citizens it would be a difficult road ahead.
The CDU politician said in the Bundestag on Thursday: "The winter will be difficult. Four long difficult months. But it will end." She said the measures were appropriate, necessary and proportionate. Merkel spoke of a dramatic situation and a historical crisis. She warned of an uncontrolled spread of the virus. AfD faction leader Alexander Gauland, had harsh criticism for Merkel, and FDP leader Christian Lindner spoke of extensive restrictions on fundamental rights.
On Wednesday, the federal and state governments decided on the most drastic measures since the major lockdown in spring. Starting on Monday, restaurants, cinemas and theaters are included on the list of those places which will be forced to close for the entire month of November. During this time, only small groups of people will be allowed to meet in private and in public. Hotels are no longer allowed to accept tourists.
According to data from the Robert Koch Institute published early Thursday morning, Germany had a new record of 16,774 coronavirus cases in one day. The previous record had been set the day before with 14,964 cases. On Thursday a week ago, the health authorities reported 11,287 cases.
The main aim of the new measures taken by the federal and state governments is to limit contacts, because many health authorities are no longer able to keep up with contact tracing.
The new rules mean that public gatherings will be limited to a maximum of ten people, and members of no more than two households. Anything beyond that, whether a larger group celebrating in a public place or at home is viewed as unacceptable in view of the serious situation in the country. Violations will carry penalties.
How private parties or celebrations would be monitored was not yet clear. The gastronomy industry warned against shifting such gatherings to private homes. Merkel said she understood the frustration and desperation and that adopting hygiene measures in restaurants had not been in vain. But with the current surge in the number of coronavirus cases, that wasn’t enough anymore to have the effect that is necessary. Many new infections can no longer be traced to their origins.
Merkel called the pandemic situation in Germany dramatic. In recent weeks, the number of new infections has skyrocketed. The number of people being cared for in intensive care units is also rising, and many health authorities are at the limit of their capacity.
The Chancellor once again called on citizens to refrain from private travel and celebrations: "The pandemic is making us more aware than ever: We are part of the whole picture. If we behave inconsiderately, without social distancing, without masks, with parties in small spaces, then we fuel the infection rate further and cause serious danger to our fellow citizens.” She added that if citizens followed the new rules, it would help the entire country to successfully tackle the enormous challenge ahead.
Merkel described the pandemic as a medical, economic, social, political and psychological test: "We will only be able to face it if we stick together and are willing to engage in transparent and open exchanges with each other.”
The political opposition parties voiced sharp criticism in part and demanded that parliament be more involved. Linder criticized the decision, saying that restrictions on civil liberties had only been decided upon by the heads of federal and state governments. Green faction leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt said that the Bundestag and Bundesrat must decide together on a course of action. Members of the AfD party interrupted Merkel's speech with an unusual amount of shouts. They consider the decisions to be excessive and inappropriate.
Merkel said a broad debate on the tough measures was necessary: "Critical debate does not weaken democracy, it strengthens it". But she also warned that "appeasing wishful thinking and populist downplaying (of the pandemic) would not only be unrealistic, it would be irresponsible." Merkel went on to say: "Lies and disinformation, conspiracy theories and hatred are not only damaging to the democratic debate but also the fight against the virus.”
(Orig. text: German Press Agency. Translation: ck)