Merkel thanks compliant Germans, shutdown to continue until at least April 20

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germans have been largely complying with rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday, as confirmed cases in the country continued to rise and her chief of staff said the shutdown would not be eased before April 20.

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian State Premier Markus Soeder leave after a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo

“When I see today how almost everyone has completely changed their behavior, how the vast majority of you really do avoid any unnecessary contact, precisely because it can also contain a risk of infection, then I would simply like to say: thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Germany has risen to 48,582 - an increase of 6,294 on the previous day - and 325 people have died of the disease, statistics from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Saturday.

Germany has closed schools, shops, restaurants, playgrounds and sports facilities and many companies have stopped production to help slow the spread of the disease.

To mitigate the economic effects of the shutdown, Germany has agreed a 750 billion euro ($834 billion) stimulus packaged and introduced measures such as an easing of insolvency rules and a moratorium on rent payments under certain circumstances.

Germany’s Minister of Justice, Christine Lambrecht, on Saturday warned against free riders seeking to take illegitimate advantage of the measures.

“If financially strong companies now simply stop paying their rents, this is obscene and unacceptable”, she said in a statement.

German companies such as sporting goods firm Adidas ADSGn.DE, electronics retail chain Media-Saturn CECG.DE and shoe retailer Deichman said on Friday they would skip rent payments after being ordered to close their shops.

Shutdown measures will not be relaxed before at least April 20, Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told Tagesspiegel’s online edition on Saturday, countering increasing criticism that the shutdown is crippling the economy.

Merkel said in her podcast that it was unclear how long the difficult times would last.

“I must ask you to be patient. Unfortunately, the daily numbers of new infections still give us no reason to relax the rules”, she said, adding that she was still in quarantine at home.

The number of new infections currently doubled roughly every 5.5 days, she said. While the number of cases doubled every 2 days at the beginning of the pandemic, a rate of roughly 10 days is needed to make sure the health system is not overburdened, she added.

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Reporting by Arno Schuetze; Editing by Mark Potter and Mike Harrison