Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Germans that the country’s recent drop in infection rates could turn out to be temporary if mutated variants of the coronavirus spread.
She said it was this risk that prompted her and the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states to agree on a lockdown extension until March 7 on Wednesday.
“We know that the danger of mutations can destroy our success,” she told the Bundestag on Thursday morning, nothing that the British, South African and Brazilian variants were currently present in Germany and that experts believed these mutations to become dominant.
She warned against repeating the mistakes of the fall when good epidemiological data led to complacency, which in turn triggered a spike in infections that required a hard lockdown over Christmas. Coronavirus numbers have only begun to decline in recent weeks.
“Even into January of this year, the virus was spreading far too quickly and far too uncontrollably — a consequence, I am sure, of hesitant action at the beginning of the summer and in the fall,” Merkel said, but added that vaccines developed by “fantastic scientists at record speed” gave reason for hope.
In response, opposition politicians reiterated their criticism of the chancellor’s practice to meet with state premiers behind closed doors to decide on restrictive measures rather than debating in the open.
Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), called on Merkel “not to let this way of dealing with the parliament become a permanent state practice,” arguing that the government risked the trust of citizens that way.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) also seized on the opportunity to repeat its opposition to the strict measures and accused the government of violating the constitution.
“A backroom meeting of the government, which is not provided for by the constitution, decides on far-reaching interventions in the lives and freedom of citizens,” said Alice Weidel, parliamentary co-leader of the AfD.
Merkel also touched on the bumpy start of vaccination campaigns in Germany and the European Union, saying she understood that “many are disappointed” with the slow pace but that “vaccination is gaining momentum.”
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