Merkel warns of virus-relapse risk

BERLIN • Chancellor Angela Merkel (picture) warned that public discussion about easing restrictions to contain the coronavirus risked sparking a new wave of infections even as Germany took its first tentative steps toward normalcy.

In a closed-door meeting of her Christian Democratic party yesterday in Berlin, she said “orgies” of opening discussions threatened to destroy the progress in fighting the pandemic, according to a participant, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

While Merkel made clear that her government currently doesn’t plan any further restrictions, that option remains on the table, saying the

next steps will be decided when she meets with leaders of Germany’s 16 states on April 30. The German chancellor also pointed out the more relevant date would be May 8, when the impact of the current easing steps becomes evident.

At the meeting, Merkel expressed her hope that people would continue to follow rules designed to limit contact between people, but she is sceptical about the latest developments.

After weeks on stringent lockdown, smaller stores across the region’s largest economy were allowed to reopen yesterday after a month-long shutdown deprived German retailers of €30 billion (RM142.8 billion) in sales and pushed many shops to the brink of bankruptcy.

The number of coronavirus cases in Germany rose by the least this month, with 2,018 new infections in the 24 hours through yesterday morning, taking the total to 145,742, according to data from Johns Hop- kins University. The number of fatalities rose by 104, the lowest since April 1, to 4,642 (at press time).

Germany’s initial steps to ease restrictions vary by state. While Frankfurt’s home state of Hesse is pushing ahead, Berlin is waiting until tomorrow and Bavaria is delaying its cautious reopening until next Monday. The uneven efforts are driven in part by political jockeying to replace Merkel after she steps down following national elections slated for next year.

Merkel’s closest allies warned people to carefully stick to social-distancing rules or risk sparking a new surge in infections and tougher restrictions.

“Now it is a matter of transferring the discipline that we have shown at home to other areas,” Helge Braun, the chancellor’s chief of staff, told the DPA news agency. If the number of infections increased too much again, more restrictions would become necessary, otherwise a vicious circle would arise.” — Bloomberg