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Coronavirus: 'The situation is bitterly serious'

December 14, 2020

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has appealed to the public to abide by a stricter lockdown that will take effect on Wednesday. He said that more restrictive measures were inevitable given the national numbers.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an address to the nation of the coronavirus — December 14, 2020
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Germany's rising case numbers 'unerring and distressing'Image: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on Germans for solidarity and consideration over the Christmas period in light of the new coronavirus lockdown.

"The situation is bitterly serious: thousands of deaths in a week and a rate of infection that is threatening to career out of control. We cannot avoid restrictive measures. The facts are unerring and they are distressing," he said in a speech in Berlin on Monday morning.

The president urged people to accept a different form of Christmas this year in order to protect others.

He said the tougher lockdown, agreed by state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, "will succeed and must succeed." 

According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany is currently averaging 176 cases per 100,000 people per week nationwide — more than three times the level at which the government says it is no longer feasible to trace the contacts of people with COVID-19.

Altmaier: Renewed recession can be averted

Meanwhile, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Monday that he is "relatively sure" that the country will not enter a recession again days before the new tougher coronavirus restrictions come into effect.

Speaking to the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, the minister said: "I am relatively sure that we will not experience a recession like the one that occurred in the spring."

Although the new restrictions currently run until January 10, Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the broadcaster RTL/n-tv that an extension was likely.

"I consider a comprehensive relaxation [after January 10] to be very, very unlikely," he said.

Sense of urgency prevalent in Germany

DW spoke with psychology professor and member of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences, Ralph Hertwig, about whether the new restrictions will succeed in curbing the rising coronavirus infection rate.

He said the plan's success lay "in our hands to some extent," and that if people stick to rules, there was no reason why the slight lifting of restrictions at Christmas should necessarily lead to a renewed spike in cases, as observed after Thanksgiving in the US.

Hertwig also pointed to the increased awareness of the urgency of Germany's situation among the public as one reason why the measures might have the desired effect.

"Every three minutes [in Germany], a person dies of the coronavirus. And I think most of the population have understood that this is really urgent. And in fact, the support for the new measures is very high," Hertwig said.

Coronavirus conspiracy theories losing support

The state of Saxony entered full lockdown on Monday, closing schools and shops two days before the rest of the country. The eastern German state on the border with the Czech Republic had seen incidence rates as high as 500 per 100,000 per week in certain areas — 10 times the rate that the government is aiming for.

The region has also been a hotbed for protests against coronavirus restrictions as well as the spread of conspiracy theories which have brought thousands of people onto the streets across Germany.

Survivor confronts skeptics

However, a recent poll from the Hans Böckler Stiftung revealed that the number of people who support or accept coronavirus-related conspiracy theories has fallen by almost a third since June, in line with the second wave of infections.

Some 28% of respondents said they believed that the pandemic may be a conspiracy by elites, down from 40% earlier in the year. At the same time, the share of people who approved of the government's handling of the crisis was down to 55%, from 65%.

New measure are ethically justified

Helmut Frister, a law professor and member of the German Ethics Council,  told DW that the new restrictions were both legally and ethically justified. Calls for voluntary social distancing can only do so much, and so reducing freedoms now "in order to have more freedoms later" was the only option.

However, he criticized the government's failure to fully prepare in the summer, laying the blame for the lack of FFP-2 masks and tests at their feet.

The independent advisory council member considered "problematic" the idea of allowing immunized people to stop wearing masks because "that would mean people would walk around shops without masks on. Who is supposed to control that?"

ab/msh (AFP, dpa, AP)