Germany risks damaging its recent achievements in subduing the spread of Covid – , Angela Merkel has warned, admonishing regional leaders and party representatives for trying to rush their way out of lockdown restrictions.
Some smaller, non-essential stores reopened their doors in Germany this week as state authorities started to ease physical distancing measures Introduced a month ago.
The country decentralized political system has allowed some of the 16 federal states to surge ahead with special exemptions for local businesses, such as North-Rhine Westphalia allowing the opening of larger furniture stores.
“The implementation [of the exit strategy] gives me cause for concern,” Merkel said on Thursday while addressing parliamentarians in the Bundestag. “In parts it comes across as brisk, not to say too brisk.
“No one likes to hear it, but we are not in the end phase of this pandemic, but at the beginning,” the German chancellor said. “We will continue to have to live with it for a long time.”
Merkel described the pandemic as “an imposition on our democracy, because it restricts precisely the things that make up our existential rights and needs”. Nonetheless, she said, the continued distancing measures were necessary.
The chancellor’s handling of the crisis, while drawing praise across the world, has also been the subject of criticism in Germany , where liberal politicians accused the conservative politician of acting in a more executive role than anticipated in the country’s constitution.
“In the handling of the corona epidemic, the chancellor is on the verge of unlawfully assuming a higher authority,” said Wolfgang Kubicki, of the pro-business Free Democratic party and the vice-president of the Bundestag.
By sounding a warning about escalating the speed of the exit strategy, however, Merkel has the support of a number of leading scientists in Germany.
Christian Drosten, the director of the Institute for Virology at Charité hospital in Berlin and a leading expert on coronaviruses, warned in his daily podcast that reopening shopping malls and larger stores could trigger a second wave of the pandemic in May and June.
Unlike the initial outbreak, such a second wave could have several starting points and would be more difficult to trace and contain.
“With great regret I am noticing that we are in the process of completely gambling away the head start that we had,” Drosten said.
Virologist Melanie Brinkmann, of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, criticized the German government communication of its exit strategy.
“A large part of the population has not realized the extent of the situation,” Brinkmann told Der Spiegel. “At the moment people see that some measures are being relaxed, conveying the impression that the entire lockdown will be lifted step by step and we can soon return to living as normal.”
“We are still at the beginning of the pandemic, many forget that,” Brinkmann said.
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