Angela Merkel said Germans had the chance to show Covid-19 “you have chosen the wrong host” as she defended her government’s second “soft” lockdown, to shouts and heckles in parliament.
Citing an interview with the German science writer Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, which she said reflected her own attitude towards the pandemic, the chancellor said: “If the virus could think, it would think … ‘I’ve got the perfect host here. These people live all over the planet. They are globally networked and are social creatures, they can’t live without social contacts. They have a hedonistic inclination, they like to party, it couldn’t be any better.’”
Humanity’s response, Merkel said, should be: “No, virus, have you learnt nothing from evolution? We humans have shown again and again that we are damned good at adjusting to difficult circumstances. We’ll show you that you have chosen the wrong host.”
“This winter is going to be tough, four long months,” she said as she concluded her speech. “But it will come to an end.”
Merkel is facing strong criticism from opposition politicians and branches of industry over the new restrictions, which come into effect on Monday. Bars, restaurants, theatres, swimming pools and fitness studios will close until the end of November, and public gatherings will be limited to two households or up to 10 people.
Unnecessary travel is discouraged and hotels are advised not to host tourists. Schools, nurseries and shops, however, will stay open.
Merkel said on Thursday morning that Germany was in a dramatic situation as it entered the winter. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care had doubled in the last 10 days, and hospitals would be overwhelmed within weeks unless further steps were taken to curb the spread of the virus, she said.
Contact tracing operations in many parts of the country had broken down, with authorities unable to locate the origin of 75% of infections, she added.
The new German restrictions are considerably less draconian than those announced by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Wednesday, but Merkel’s “wavebreaker” lockdown has been met with cries of despair, particularly from the hospitality sector.
Owners of restaurants, bars and hotels, many of whom have invested in new technology to meet hygiene requirements, will be hit hard by the new closures, despite the finance ministry’s promises of new subsidies. Germany’s disease control agency has yet to show data to prove that establishments where guests comply with mask-wearing rules have driven the recent rise in infections, they complain.
The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Free Democratic party (FDP) led the charge against Merkel’s second lockdown in the Bundestag. “We consider Ms Merkel’s paralysing of the culture and gastronomy sector, practically the entire leisure life of our citizens, to be excessive and inappropriate,” said AfD’s co-leader Alexander Gauland.
The Green party said it approved of the new measures, but accused the government of having underestimated the threat of a second wave in the summer.
Neither Gauland nor the FDP leader, Christian Lindner, offered concrete proposals for an alternative plan, in the knowledge that measures as drastic as closing schools would be likely to prove even more controversial. The lockdown measures introduced in March had broad public support, but the closure of schools and nurseries was widely criticised.
Germany’s health and education ministersunveiled a study two weeks ago which they said had shown that nurseries were not drivers of the pandemic. A study by the Bonn Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) argues that reopening schools had also not led to an anticipated rise in infection rates. Merkel justified her decision to keep nurseries and schools open in November “with view to the supreme significance of education”.
Germany’s disease control agency announced a record 16,774 new infections in the last 24 hours on Thursday, though for now the country’s infection rate is still considerably lower than in neighbouring countries such as France and Belgium.