Berlin, 21 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of a “mixed picture” in Germany when it comes to battling the coronavirus pandemic, as she outlined on Thursday both her country and the European Union’s plans to bring the crisis under control this year.
“On the one hand, the daily new infections are going down, finally,” Merkel said, while also pointing to reduced pressure on intensive care units.
But the chancellor also pointed to “frighteningly high death tolls” and the threat of a more transmissible virus mutation that has gained ground in Britain, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Ahead of an EU summit later in the day, which is set to focus on genome sequencing of virus mutations and the bloc’s vaccination drive, Merkel said: “Everything serves the goal to gain control of the pandemic this year and eventually to overcome it.”
She told reporters in Berlin that measures to curb the pandemic in Germany “are beginning to pay off.”
Nonetheless, the chancellor and the nation’s 16 state premiers agreed earlier this week to extend a current lockdown until at least February 14.
This includes the closure of schools and non-essential shops, as well as a rule banning people from meeting more than one other individual from outside their household at any given time.
Merkel had pushed for even tougher restrictions, only some of which the regional leaders agreed to.
These include new working-from-home rules and stricter mask requirements in shops and on public transport, where only medical-quality face coverings will be allowed in future.
Merkel voiced her understanding for frustration at the enduring restrictions on public life.
“This pandemic is rightly so seen as an imposition,” she said, adding that it “would be quite surprising if patience were not also put to an extremely hard test, and we are aware of that.”
During the press conference, Merkel again rejected allegations that Germany did not secure as many vaccine doses as it could have, stressing that the debate on additional orders was “not interesting” as long as production had not caught up with demand.
She defended the decision to fall in line with a joint EU initiative to order and distribute vaccines, adding that it would have been “really, really awful” if Germany had been able to roll out vaccinations while other weaker countries stood by and waited.
Germany has so far administered a coronavirus vaccine to 1,401,693 people, according to the Health Ministry. Some 1.6 percent of the population of around 83 million have received an initial dose.
The focus has so far been on vaccinating hospital and care home staff as well as elderly care home residents.
Germany’s death toll has almost tripled since early December to almost 50,000. Care homes have been particularly hard hit by the country’s second wave of infections.
“My heart breaks when I see how many people … have died there in solitude,” Merkel said.