Berlin, Dec 9 (efe-epa).- German chancellor Angela Merkel made an unusually emotional appeal for tougher coronavirus restrictions in a speech to parliament on Wednesday, as the country reported a record 590 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.
The country entered a partial lockdown in early November, but those measures have not succeeded in curbing the second wave of the pandemic.
Merkel has for weeks been calling for those measures to be stepped up to allow for families to celebrate Christmas together, but some regions have resisted those calls, while others, such as Saxony and Bavaria, have already imposed harsher restrictions, as the chancellor struggles to convince the regional leaders to commit to a tougher coordinated response.
In a passionate address, Merkel said: “As hard as it is – and I know how much love has gone into setting up the mulled wine stands and waffle stands – this is not compatible with the agreement we made to only take food away to eat at home,” referring to measures under the partial lockdown that allowed bars and restaurants and other eateries to stay open only for take away services.
“I’m really sorry from the bottom of my heart. But if the price we pay is 590 deaths a day, then that is unacceptable in my view,” she said.
The partial nationwide lockdown, which limits gatherings to up to five people from a maximum of two households – has already been extended until January, although an amnesty period over Christmas and New Year is in place to allow celebrations of up to 10 people.
On Tuesday, however, the influential national sciences academy, Leopoldina, issued a report urging a “hard lockdown” during the Christmas and New Year to bring caseloads down, as well as closing schools earlier by moving classes online or bringing forward the start of the holidays.
“When the scientists are practically begging us to reduce our contacts for a week before we see Grandma and Grandpa and other older people at Christmas, then perhaps we really should think again about whether we can’t find a way to start the school holidays on the 16th instead of on the 19th,” Merkel pleaded.
“What will we say when we look back on this once-in-a-century event, if we weren’t able to find a solution for these three days? And it may be the case that sending children home is the wrong thing to do, if so then it will have to be digital lessons or something else. I don’t know, this is not my area of expertise and I don’t want to interfere.
“I only want to say: if we have too many contacts now, in the run-up to Christmas, and it ends up being the last Christmas with our grandparents, then we will have done something wrong. We should not let this happen,” she said.
Merkel was speaking during a parliamentary debate on the government’s 2021 budget, which is used as an opportunity for opposition parties to review and critique the government’s performance over the previous year.
This will be the last such debate that will involve Merkel, who has been in power for a maximum of four terms and will not be standing for reelection next year.
Predictably, the chancellor received pushback from right-wing and liberal parties, including the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has consistently criticised lockdown measures, saying the restrictions inflict undue damage on the economy and unfairly curb individual freedoms.
AfD’s co-leader in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, questioned the effectiveness of “counterproductive lockdowns” and called Merkel’s handling of the pandemic response – widely applauded by other countries – was “aimless and grotesque”, accusing her of “locking up citizens” and “destroying entire industries.”
During her speech, Merkel also said that the vaccines that will be made available during the first three months of next year will not be enough to bring about an immediate “significant” improvement to the epidemic in the country.
While vaccines do offer a glimmer of hope that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”, the country – which is in a “decisive phase” – is far from overcoming the pandemic, whose second wave has been “much more demanding than the first”.
But the chancellor stressed that if vulnerable groups and health workers can start being inoculated at the beginning of the year, “a lot will have been achieved”. EFE-EPA