Corona crisis: Angela Merkel’s Easter test

Corona crisis: Angela Merkel's Easter test

Public life in Germany has been largely paralyzed for ten days. Not enough, said Chancellor Merkel and the country heads. Only after Easter do they want to think about easing in the corona crisis.

© Oliver Dietze / dpa

No question, the corona virus changed the republic long ago. The Chancellor also has to improvise. After contact with an infected person, Angela Merkel has been ruling from her Berlin apartment for days. There are no normal press conferences either. Instead, Merkel calls the public this Wednesday by telephone.

And then there is also the technology.

First try. The Chancellor makes a short monologue. There is a clatter on the line. Then there is silence.

Second try. “Yes, Merkel?” The Chancellor reports back on the line. Then she repeats her speech, the journalists can ask questions. Everything works this time.

These are unusual times. And these will probably continue for quite a while. That is the message the Chancellor has to spread late Wednesday afternoon.

Previously, it had again linked up with the heads of government of the federal states. Ten days after the same group agreed on historical restrictions for the population. Hardnesses that should do one thing above all: slow down the virus.

Contact blocks apply everywhere in the country. Whenever possible, people should avoid personal encounters with others. They should only leave their apartments on clearly defined occasions – and then only for two or with the people who live in their own household.

The rules were previously limited to April 5. On Wednesday, however, Merkel and the Prime Ministers fixed what had recently emerged: no easing is to be expected for the time being. From April 19, at the earliest, they want to think about it. After the Easter holidays.

This time, people should celebrate the festival differently, in order to formulate it carefully. Citizens remained on hold, a round’s decision paper said, “to reduce contacts to an absolute minimum in accordance with the applicable rules”. You should generally avoid private trips and visits. “That also applies in Germany and for national day trips.”

If the previous prohibitions were a test for the population, the coming days will be a special test. Because Easter time is usually travel time. And family time.

“On the whole,” people have followed the restrictions, Merkel says. But that’s not enough. The reason for the renewed warning from top politicians is clear: Thousands of new people infected with corona are reported every day. According to the Robert Koch Institute, more than 700 people who have carried the virus have died in Germany. “A pandemic knows no holidays,” says Merkel.

The number of diseases has increased somewhat less recently. But the virus continues to spread so rapidly that the all-important question remains: is the German health system up to this epidemic?

Experts and politicians have long feared scenes such as in Italy, where hospitals are overcrowded, doctors have to decide which intensive care patients they can ventilate – and which they cannot. There are choices between life and death.

At present, the number of officially registered infected people in Germany doubles approximately every eight days. According to Merkel, however, this should only happen every 12 to 14 days in order not to overload the hospitals. That is now the target.

It had already become apparent before the telephone call that the restrictions would not end quickly. Several federal states had already extended the bans and barriers on their own. A sustainable improvement in the situation was simply not in sight.

Protection of nursing homes

In Germany, especially in old people’s and nursing homes, the situation has recently come to a head. More and more deaths are reported. The protection of these facilities was one of the central issues in the Prime Minister’s meeting with Merkel.

“People who are particularly susceptible to infections live here, we have to protect them,” said the Chancellor afterwards. For example, more protective masks would have to be vigorously procured.

In general, protective masks have long become a symbol of the crisis in Germany. Firstly, because they represent the lack of appropriate medical equipment. On the other hand, because there is a louder discussion about whether all people should wear such masks when they leave the house. In Thuringia, the city of Jena and the district of Nordhausen are planning for supermarkets and local public transport to wear mouth-nose protectors from next week.

There should initially be no such rule across Germany. The federal and state governments had agreed on this point, said Bavarias Prime Minister Markus SOder. Masks are of course suitable for everyone to prepare themselves against the spread of the virus, but a duty should not be called.

Procurement must be further intensified. “By the way, we will eventually need billions of masks in Germany in the long run,” said SOder. According to the participants, there was astonishment at the information desk when Bremen Mayor Andreas Bovenschulte (SPD) and Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff (CDU) asked about how useful it was to wear self-made masks. It is now known that these do little for self-protection. Spahn and Merkel answered the questions patiently and knowledgeably.

The topic continues to be taboo: When can the restrictions on freedom be lifted? There have recently been disputes between NRW Prime Minister Armin Laschet (per exit debate) and SOder and the Federal Government (contra).

There is no point in speaking out loud about exit scenarios at the moment, participants say. This raises false hopes among the population. But the debate will not be so easily suppressed. And Laschet followed suit on Wednesday: He appointed a “Corona Expert Council”, which is to set standards in North Rhine-Westphalia as to how and when things will continue after the crisis.

Politicians cannot simply announce at the end of April that they will get out of the restrictions and reopen everything, says Laschet. “You have to understand why you are doing this and what is being weighed.”

On Wednesday, however, the group was clearly trying to demonstrate unity. This has not always been possible in the past weeks of the crisis. At the beginning of the session, participants said SOder emphasized that he wanted “everyone to go together”. SOder of all people, some mocked later. After all, Bavarias prime minister was not necessarily noticed by close coordination with his colleagues.

But, it is said, his sentence was generally interpreted as a sign of peace.

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