Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to remain patient with coronavirus restrictions, saying that, with promising vaccines on the way, “there is light at the end of the tunnel”.
Addressing parliament the day after agreeing with state governors to extend restrictions until December 20, Ms Merkel said officials had sought to keep life as normal as possible while protecting people from the virus and ensuring hospital systems aren’t overwhelmed.
“In the fight against the pandemic it’s not about health or economy, health or education, health or culture, health or social contacts, it’s about all of these things,” she said.
“To think of these things in opposition to one another is a common misunderstanding but it’s always about both.”
Germany embarked on a so-called wave-breaker lockdown on November 2, closing restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities but leaving schools, shops and hair salons open.
It was due to last four weeks but Ms Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors agreed on Wednesday to extend it through until December 20.
Their goal is to push the number of new coronavirus cases in each region below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants per week. It’s currently at 140 per 100,000, with some regions far higher.
On Thursday, the country hit the grim milestone of more than 15,000 deaths from the coronavirus. It appeared likely to surpass one million infections on Friday, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control centre.
Germany, which has 83 million people, was credited with a relatively good performance in the first phase of the pandemic. It still has a lower death rate than several other European countries and its current lockdown has been relatively mild.
The current restrictions have managed to stop the exponential rise of new cases but they have stabilised at a high level. Authorities now want to try and bring this down.
Additional restrictions the government agreed upon included further limitations on private gatherings, discouraging traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks and banning some events entirely. It will also expand mask requirements and reduce the number of customers allowed into larger stores.
The government also plans around 17 billion euros (£15 billion) more in aid to compensate businesses hit by the lockdown. This comes on top of 15 billion euros (around £13.2 billion) provided by federal authorities in November.
Ms Merkel said that with several promising vaccines nearing approval, possibly before Christmas, people had reason for optimism.
“That won’t solve the problem immediately but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Ms Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun told RTL television that it was likely some restrictions would remain in place through March as the vaccine was rolled out.
Although Ms Merkel warned politicians that the winter would be “difficult”, she stressed: “But it will end.”