Merkel rails at German states for taking foot off ‘emergency brake’

Angela Merkel has attacked the leaders of Germany’s regions, saying they should not be moving to reopen their economies and raising the prospect of nationwide curfews to slow the spread of coronavirus.

In a wide-ranging interview on the German television channel ARD, Merkel faulted some of the 16 states for failing to implement an “emergency brake” agreed on March 3. This would halt all moves to relax lockdowns as soon as the number of infections rose above 100 per 100,000 people over seven days.

“Unfortunately, it is not being adhered to everywhere,” she said. “There are several states that are interpreting it very broadly, and that doesn’t fill me with joy.”

“What depresses and vexes me is that the good parts of a resolution are implemented, . . . but the difficult part isn’t, as I would wish it to be,” she told the interviewer, Anne Will.

Merkel was speaking as the incidence of infections per 1,000 people in Germany rose to 130, from 104 a week ago. The number of total confirmed cases increased by 17,176 to 2,722,401 on Sunday, while the death roll rose by 90 to 75,870.

The interview closes one of the toughest weeks Merkel has faced as chancellor. Earlier in the week she was forced to abandon a proposal to extend the Easter holidays, in the hope that a strict shutdown of all economic life would slow progress of the virus. She apologised to the country for what she acknowledged had been a mistake.

Speaking on Sunday evening, Merkel said Germany might need to take “additional measures” to contain the third wave, all of which are already allowed under German law. “We have the possibility of curfews, further contact restrictions, further mask-wearing,” she said.

Schools must carry out tests on pupils at least twice a week, she said. Employers must allow their staff to work from home, and those who work at the office or factory must undergo tests twice a week, she added — a rule that might soon be enforced by law.

Merkel was highly critical of states that were moving ahead with lifting the curbs on economic activity that have been in force since November. “Where the impression is being made that we can open things up — that is not the order of the day,” she said.

One state that has vowed to reopen after Easter is the small region of Saarland in western Germany. Merkel acknowledged its infection numbers were relatively low “but they’re not stable . . . they’re not sinking”.

“Now is not the time to contemplate [such a relaxation],” she said, adding that she was “not happy” with the state’s initiative.

She also criticised the actions of Armin Laschet, prime minister of the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who was elected leader of her CDU party in January. He has said the emergency brake will be applied only in certain districts, not the whole state.

When asked by Will if Laschet was violating the principle of the emergency brake with such a selective approach, she said: “Yes, but he’s not the only one.”

Merkel said she was keen to avoid mistakes made last autumn, when signs were already evident that a second wave was about to hit but authorities were slow to react.

The measures decided then were “a bit delayed, and that cost us a lot of time and a lot of energy, and now with the third wave it looks like the same thing might be happening again”.

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