Chancellor Angela Merkel cautiously praised Germany's dip in COVID-19 cases but said the country needs to be "very careful" going forward. She urged state leaders to take care to avoid another widespread outbreak.
As leaders in Germany's 16 states take on more responsibility for monitoring the coronavirus and loosening restrictions, Chancellor Angela Merkel said it is more important than ever to have a coordinated response.
"I very much agree that everyone should work within their own areas of responsibility," Merkel said during a press conference on Wednesday. "This also means, however, that it is important to me as the chancellor and to the entire federal government that we have a consensus on fundamental issues."
With her signature caution, Merkel also praised the fall in the number of COVID-19 cases, but emphasized that the virus "hasn't gone away."
"We're still living at the beginning of the pandemic," Merkel said. "We have gained better control, but the virus is still there."
Read more: When will the second wave of infections hit?
Spat with states over loosening measures
The chancellor's remarks came on the heels of a meeting with the leaders of Germany's eastern states, some of whom have been pushing to further relax COVID-19 restrictions.
Bodo Ramelow, the state premier of Thuringia, which has seen very few cases, recently proposed doing away with regulations all together in his state and instead issuing recommendations for local residents.
Merkel emphasized that the current rule of keeping a minimum of 1.5 meters (nearly 5 feet) distance between people should continue to be a requirement.
"I think that the minimum distance is an obligation," the chancellor emphasized. Doing away with the minimum distance requirement could very quickly turn into a situation where people with weaker immune systems "don't dare to take to the streets at all."
Under Germany's federal system, the responsibility for coordinating local health departments and coming up with regulations for schools lies with the individual states.
On Tuesday, the federal government and the states agreed to extend the country's nationwide social-distancing requirements — including physical contact restrictions — until June 29. The agreement, however, allows states wiggle room to decide for themselves how they want to enact the rules.
In recent weeks, Germany has seen local coronavirus outbreaks particularly hitting migrant workers at slaughterhouses, worshippers at a church service, as well as people living in refugee homes across the country.
rs/sms (AFP, Reuters, epd)