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Merkel backtracks on Easter lockdown after uproar

March 24, 2021

In a turnabout move, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told state premiers in a video call that there would not be a strict lockdown over Easter after all. This follows a day of criticism and confusion in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers will reverse their plan to toughen virus shutdown measures over EasterImage: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states will reverse their plan to toughen virus lockdown measures over Easter.

Merkel announced the changes after an impromptu videoconference with the 16 regional leaders in which she explained the U-turn and said the mistake was ultimately hers to answer for.

What did Merkel say?

During a press conference, Merkel said the Easter lockdown was formed "with the best of intentions," but on closer analysis, the planned shutdown risked doing more harm than good.

"It was well reasoned, but was not really doable in such a short time," Merkel said of the Easter measures. "Far too many questions, from missing wages through to the loss of time in factories and facilities, could not be adequately answered in time."

"We must try to slow down the third wave of the pandemic. Nevertheless, it was a mistake," Merkel said, adding: "Because at the end of the day, I carry the last responsibility.

"It's now important for me to say so here. A mistake should be called a mistake and above all, it should be corrected, preferably in good time," she stressed, asking citizens for forgiveness.

The chancellor then appealed for understanding that there would be "no time for questions", before quickly leaving for a Q&A session in the Bundestag.

Merkel refuses call for vote of confidence

Merkel began the hour in parliament by reiterating her apology, which was received by a smattering of applause from many MPs in her conservative parliamentary group.

"We will defeat the virus together. The road is hard and rocky, [...] but the virus will lose its horror," she said.

In response to a question, Merkel said there will be no new alternative to the scrapped Easter plan. 

Social Democratic Party politician Karl Lauterbach told DW that Merkel's turnaround was necessary to minimize coronavirus deaths in Germany. 

"The new cases will go up. It will not stop with the measures that are in place now," he said. "I believe that we will not get around without having curfews at night, at least for a limited period of time until there is massive testing in schools, but also manufacturing sites and job locations will be implemented."

While several party allies and members of the opposition voiced their respect for Merkel's apology, not everyone was as forgiving. Christian Lindner, party leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), tweeted that Merkel should put a vote of confidence to the Bundestag.

"The chancellor can no longer be sure of the unanimous support of her coalition," Lindner wrote. "A vote of confidence in the German Bundestag would be advisable in order to check the ability of the Merkel government to act."

Later on Wednesday, Merkel said she would not call for a vote of confidence.

"No, I will not do that," Merkel told public broadcaster ARD. "I asked people today to forgive me for a mistake. This was the right thing to do, I believe. I also have the support of the whole federal government and parliament."

How the lockdown plan came about

Criticism of the latest lockdown plans began on Tuesday. After 12 hours of talks starting on Monday afternoon, Merkel and state premiers agreed to pull the emergency brake and reverse the easing of restrictions in areas where the 7-day incidence rate exceeds 100 cases per 100,000 people for three consecutive days.

They also announced an even tighter lockdown over the long Easter weekend, between April 1 and April 5, when the whole country, including most grocery stores, would have to close. Contact between two households would remain permitted.

Merkel described the measures as an attempt to "break the exponential growth of the third wave." They immediately met with widespread criticism.

Leading epidemiologists say a five-day tighter stint over Easter would have little to no effect on combating the third wave which has swept across Germany.

Protestant and Catholic bodies, in particular, cried foul. 


CDU/CSU suffering in polls

A sluggish vaccine rollout, lockdown fatigue, and a slew of corruption allegations had already started taking its toll on the CDU/CSU in recent days. 

In a FORSA poll published Wednesday, the conservative sister parties slid further to 26%. As recently as mid-February, the CDU/CSU was polling well above 30%, almost at 40% in some surveys.

Germany's public health institute, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported 15,813 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, and 248 deaths.

ksb,mvb/msh (dpa, AFP)

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