Merkel sees ‘no reason to relax’ restrictions yet, calls for patience

By dpa correspondents

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to the public for patience on Saturday after a top official said restrictions on people’s movements aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus won’t be lifted in the coming weeks.

Merkel, who is herself in home isolation after being given a vaccine by a doctor who later tested positive for the virus, underlined the importance of staying at home in her weekly podcast.

No one can say how long this time will last, but “there is still no reason to relax the rules,” she said.

According to initial tests, the chancellor has not been infected.

Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 federal states agreed last weekend to strict social-distancing rules, requiring people across the country to stay indoors as much as possible.

The government has also issued a warning against all foreign travel, while schools, cultural institutions, restaurants and sports facilities all remain closed.

Merkel’s chief-of-staff, Helge Braun, told the Tagesspiegel interview, “We are not talking about any easing until April 20. Until then all measures will remain in place.”

Older people will have to stick to restrictions for much longer than younger people, he added.

Merkel noted that the number of new infections doubled roughly every five and a half days, and called on the nation to try to slow this rate to every 10 days, to avoid overtaxing the health care system.

“Anyone following this advice can save lives,” she said.

On Saturday, Germany had more than 54,200 coronavirus infections, according to dpa’s calculations, based on numbers from the federal states. So far, 397 people have died in the country.

Some in Germany are beginning to ask about exit scenarios. Georg Maier, who heads a committee of state interior ministers, told Die Welt newspaper that people would have to stick to the current restrictions but that they might reach their limits after more than four weeks.

He said countries such as South Korea and Sweden had opted for mass testing and isolation of those infected, and that Germany should consider such an approach.

While most people appeared to be largely adhering to the restrictions currently in place in Germany, leading to eerily quiet scenes in major cities, some were actively flouting a ban on social contact with people from outside their own household.

Police reported a number of unpermitted demonstrations in the capital Berlin on Saturday, with a gathering of more than 200 people broken up in the central Kreuzberg district.

Several people were arrested, police said on Twitter.

A popular green space in the district of Friedrichshain was also closed off due to a crowd of around 150 people developing there, police said.

And in the Mitte district, a spokeswoman said officers had to disperse people who had gathered for a protest criticizing the social-distancing rules under the banner “Defend basic rights, say no to dictatorship.” She was unable to say how many protesters were there.

A protest in support of refugees which attracted around 30 people was also broken up in the city of Hamburg in northern Germany.

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