BERLIN (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the Germans to remain patient with restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, saying on Thursday that there was “light at the end of the tunnel” on the road with promising vaccinations.
Merkel said officials came before parliament on the day they agreed with state governors to extend the restrictions until at least December 20 to keep life as normal as possible while protecting people from the virus and ensuring overloading hospital systems.
“Fighting a pandemic is not about health or the economy, health or education, health or culture, health or social relations, it’s about these things,” he said. “When we think of these things in conflict with each other, it’s a general misunderstanding, but it’s always about both.”
Germany launched a so-called breakwater shutdown on November 2, closing restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities, but leaving schools, shops and hairdressing salons open.
It originally lasted four weeks, but Merkel and the country’s 16 heads of state agreed late Wednesday to extend it until December 20, with the aim of reducing the number of new cases of coronavirus to less than 50,000 / 100,000 inhabitants / week in each region. Currently 140 / 100,000, some regions are much higher.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, the nation’s disease control center, the country reached a grim milestone of more than 15,000 deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday and is likely to have exceeded one million infections.
Germany, with 83 million people, can perform relatively well in the first phase of the pandemic. Mortality rates are still lower than in many other European countries and its current shutdown has been relatively mild.
The current restrictions have managed to stop the exponential growth of new cases, but have stabilized at a high level, which the authorities are now trying to bring back.
The government also agreed on Wednesday on further restrictions, including further restrictions on private rallies, a deterrent to traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks and a total ban on certain events, an extension of mask requirements and a reduction in the number of shoppers allowed into larger stores.
The government is planning an additional € 17 billion ($ 20 billion) in more aid to compensate businesses affected by the downtime, in addition to the € 15 billion (about $ 17.9 billion) provided by federal authorities in November.
Merkel said they approached approval with more promising vaccinations, possibly before Christmas, and people had reason to be optimistic.
“It doesn’t solve the problem right away, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told RTL television that certain restrictions are likely to remain in place until March as the vaccine is introduced.
“Winter will be tough,” Merkel told lawmakers. – But it will be over.
Frank Jordans contributed to this story.