The coronavirus is the biggest challenge the EU has faced and member states must show more solidarity for the bloc to emerge stronger from the ensuing economic crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday.
Germany and the Netherlands have been criticised by Italy and Spain, the two countries worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak, for rejecting calls that the eurozone issue debt to ease its economic effects.
Mrs Merkel reaffirmed Germany’s opposition to pooling debt in the euro system but said she supported using the currency bloc’s bailout fund to help badly affected countries.
“In my view, the European Union is facing the biggest test since its foundation,” she said.
“We have a big health challenge that is impacting all member states, however differently. It is a symmetrical shock.”
Mrs Merkel said Germany would be weakened if the EU were seen to be showing insufficient solidarity with its most needy members.
“It will be about showing that we are ready to defend our Europe, to strengthen it,” she said.
Germany would also support a post-crisis stimulus programme for the eurozone and broader EU.
“Here, too, Germany is ready to make a contribution,” Mrs Merkel said.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has said the eurozone’s bailout fund of about €400 billion (US$431.84bn/Dh1.58 trillion) should be quickly made available to hard-hit countries.
Germany had reported 95,391 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 1,434 deaths as of Monday, proportionally much lower than other large European nations.
Mrs Merkel said that restrictions on free movement and business closures, in effect in Germany since March 22, would remain in place until at least April 19 and that it was too early to talk about relaxing the lockdown.
A government document maps out a phased return to normal life after the lockdown ends, with enforced measures that would include wearing masks in public, limits on gatherings and the rapid tracing of infection chains.
The draft plan would make it possible to track more than 80 per cent of people with whom an infected person had contact within 24 hours of diagnosis.
Infected people and those with whom they had contact would be quarantined at home or in hotels.
The document assumes the pandemic will last until 2021.
Shops would be allowed to reopen, along with schools in some regions, although strict social-distancing measures would still be in place.
Border controls would be relaxed but large events and private parties would still be forbidden, the document said.
When enough protective masks are available, it would become compulsory to wear them on trains and buses, and in factories and public buildings, it said.