Merkel imposes Easter lockdown in Germany after surge in infections

Sudden deterioration in Europe’s efforts to contain Covid-19 blamed on variants

 Berlin mayor Michael Mueller, Chancellor Angela Merkel and premier of Bavaria Markus Soeder after a video conference with German state premiers about the  coronavirus situation. Germany’s contagion rate has nearly doubled in the past month. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Berlin mayor Michael Mueller, Chancellor Angela Merkel and premier of Bavaria Markus Soeder after a video conference with German state premiers about the coronavirus situation. Germany’s contagion rate has nearly doubled in the past month. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a five-day lockdown over Easter in one of Germany’s toughest moves since the start of the pandemic, highlighting the sudden deterioration in Europe’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

Just a few weeks after the spread appeared under control, restrictions have been extended in France and Italy, while Austria cancelled reopening plans on Monday.

The region’s darkening outlook will be reflected in a joint statement by European Union leaders on Thursday when they discuss the pandemic, which has taken a turn for the worse because of aggressive Covid-19 strains.

“The epidemiological situation remains serious, also in the light of the challenges posed by variants,” leaders will say, according to a draft of their communique. “Restrictions, including as regards non-essential travel, must therefore be upheld for the time being.”

Plans to hold the summit in person were abruptly shelved last week and the meeting will instead take place by video conference, in a move that encapsulates the worsening situation.

Contagion rate

Infections in Belgium – where EU summits are normally held – have risen by more than 40 per cent weekly, according to the latest available data. Germany’s contagion rate has nearly doubled in the past month.

In the radical Easter shutdown of Europe’s largest economy, all shops will be closed from April 1st for five days, except for food stores, which will open on April 3rd.

After more than 11 hours of tense talks that ended early on Tuesday, Dr Merkel and state leaders extended Germany’s current lockdown measures until April 18th, but failed to reach an agreement on tougher measures such as curfews in hard-hit areas and to establish rules for domestic travel.

With political leaders increasingly at odds over how to proceed, opinion polls suggest the public is becoming more and more disgruntled with the government’s handling of the crisis just six months ahead of September’s national election.

“We are now in a very, very serious situation,” Dr Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin. “The case numbers are rising exponentially and intensive care beds are filling up again.”

Vaccine pass

Greece, which has lobbied EU leaders heavily to approve a vaccine pass that would ease leisure travel for those inoculated, began drafting private practice doctors this week, using national security legislation to help its stretched public health system.

Spiking contagion rates come as Europe struggles to ramp up vaccine campaigns. The EU has administered doses covering 6.6 per cent of the population, less than a third of what the UK has managed, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

“There’s no holiday, there’s no weekend for vaccination,” French president Emmanuel Macron, who has been criticised for a slow rollout, said on Tuesday during a visit to an immunisation centre in the northern city of Valenciennes, pledging that students, firemen, nurses and retired doctors could give shots. “There is no truce.”

Dr Merkel reiterating instead an urgent appeal for citizens to stay at home. “We want to avoid our health system becoming overburdened,” she said. “We have managed that throughout this long pandemic journey, and we have to manage that in the coming weeks.”– Bloomberg