Merkel presses German states to get tough with COVID curbs

BERLIN (Reuters) -Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Germany’s states on Sunday to step up efforts to curb rapidly rising coronavirus infections, and raised the possibility of introducing curfews to try to get a third wave under control.

People wearing protective masks as they are crossing a bridge in front of the head quarter of the European Central Bank (ECB,R) during sunset as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Frankfurt, Germany, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Merkel expressed dissatisfaction that some states were choosing not to halt a gradual reopening of the economy even as the number of infections per 100,000 people over seven days had risen over 100 - a measure she and regional leaders had agreed on in early March.

“We have our emergency brake ... unfortunately, it is not respected everywhere. I hope that there might be some reflection on this,” Merkel said in a rare appearance on broadcaster ARD’s Anne Will talk show.

Coronavirus infections have risen rapidly in recent weeks, driven by more transmissible strains of the virus. Merkel’s chief of staff warned earlier on Sunday that the country was in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic and must suppress the virus now or risk dangerous mutations that were immune to vaccines.

On Sunday, the incidence of the virus per 100,000 rose to 130 from 104 a week ago. The number of total confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 17,176 to 2,772,401, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 90 to 75,870, the tally showed.

Germany’s vaccination rollout has got off to a sluggish start, hampered by supply constraints. As of Sunday, 10.3% of the population had received at least a first shot, far behind rates in other countries like Israel, the United States and Britain.

Merkel said that if states did not start implementing measures with appropriate seriousness in the “very foreseeable future”, she would have to consider what steps could be taken on a nationwide basis.

One option would be to amend the Infection Protection Act to stipulate what should happen under certain scenarios, Merkel said, adding the government and states were obliged to contain infections.

Businesses may also have to be required to implement testing for staff who cannot work from home if they fail to do it sufficiently on their own, she said.

Merkel said she was not convinced the measures taken up to now were enough to break the third wave of the pandemic.

“In any case, I will not stand by and watch that we have 100,000 infected people,” she said, referring to a warning by RKI President Lothar Wieler that daily cases could shoot up to that level without tougher curbs.

“What additional measures do we need? ... We need to do more. We have the possibilities of restrictions on going out, further contact restrictions, further mask wearing ... plus testing strategies in all places: so in schools twice a week, and through the economy”.

Reporting by Caroline Copley and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Paul Carrel and Peter Cooney