Angela Merkel pushes for tougher lockdown amid rise in COVID cases

BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel threw her weight behind calls for a fuller lockdown in Germany that would include closing shops after Christmas, telling legislators that vaccines alone would not majorly alter the pandemic’s course in the first quarter.

Europe’s largest economy has been in partial lockdown for six weeks, with bars and restaurants closed but shops and schools open. That has stopped the coronavirus’s exponential growth but infection levels remain at a high level.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Merkel said regional leaders should follow scientific guidance, which has called for people to further reduce their contact with others.

“It would be good to take seriously what the scientists are telling us,” she said. “We will not be able to vaccinate so many people in the first quarter of 2021 – which is the winter quarter – that we will see a significant change.”

Under Germany’s federal system, the power to impose restrictions lies with regional governments. Merkel has long pushed for harsher lockdown measures, which some state leaders, especially those in less affected regions, have resisted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on her face mask as she attends a session at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, December 9, 2020.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel puts on her face mask as she attends a session at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, December 9, 2020.
Reuters

The Leopoldina, an official scientific advisory body, has recommended that school Christmas holidays start earlier than planned and that shops be closed until at least Jan. 10 to mop up the after-effects of a possible spike caused by families meeting at Christmas.

Merkel said schools should extend holidays until Jan. 10 or offer online lessons until then.

She warned that the pandemic was “reordering” the global economy, with European countries suffering a more serious economic hit from the virus than many others, especially in Asia.

But she defended Germany’s approach against critics who said authorities should have been more aggressive in policing lockdowns, saying that its liberal approach was bound to be different from that of countries that “look more like dictatorships.”

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