“We are in a decisive, perhaps decisive phase of the fight against the pandemic,” Merkel told parliament on Wednesday. “The numbers are at too high a level,” added a visibly frustrated foreign minister, describing as “very alarming” the growing number of people requiring intensive care and dying.
Merkel has consistently advocated for decisive action to fight the pandemic, but has often had to move more slowly because, in a highly decentralized Germany, the country’s 16 state governments are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions. She and state governors meet regularly to coordinate action.
Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities are currently closed in Germany and hotels are closed to tourists, but schools and non-essential shops remain open.
Germany in the northern spring managed to avoid the high number of infections and the terrible death toll seen in other large European nations, and it still continues to have a much lower overall death rate than countries like Britain, France or Spain.
But the current figures are not encouraging. New cases in Germany per 100,000 residents during the last 14 days are now higher than in France, Belgium and Spain, and are at the same level as Great Britain, although still well below Italy, Sweden and many others, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
Merkel noted that a national academy of scientists and academics recommended on Tuesday that the Germans reduce their social contacts starting next week and establish a “strict lockdown” from December 24 to January 10.
“We would do well to take what scientists are telling us really seriously,” he said.
Merkel called on state governments to consider closing schools before Christmas, saying that people jumping from one mulled wine stand during the holidays to another is “unacceptable” given the daily death toll.
“If we have too many contacts before Christmas and then it is our last Christmas with our grandparents, then we will have been negligent,” he said.
Some state governors are already adopting stricter restrictions. The eastern state of Saxony, currently the hardest hit, will close schools and most shops from Monday to January 10.
Its neighbor to the south, Bavaria, is introducing measures like a night curfew in the worst affected areas and demanding more homeschooling and stricter border controls.