Germany remembers almost 80,000 who have died in Covid-19 pandemic

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel joined by five relatives of victims

BERLIN, GERMANY - APRIL 18:  German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a candle during a commemoration ceremony for Germany's coronavirus victims at Gendarmenmarkt concert hall on a national day of mourning on April 18, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Approximately 80,000 people have died in Germany so far in connection with Covid-19. The country is currently in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic brought on by the spread of the B117 variant. (Photo by Christian Marquar-Pool/Getty Images)
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Germany paid tribute on Sunday to the almost 80,000 people it has lost to the coronavirus, as the country decides how to arrest another rise in infections.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier led a memorial event at Berlin’s Konzerthaus hall with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top officials.

They were joined by five relatives of people who died over the past year in placing a circle of candles in the mostly empty hall.

Mr Steinmeier said that months of focusing on infection rates and other statistics were “understandable".

"But my impression is that we as a society don’t appreciate often enough that people stand behind all the figures,” he said. “Their suffering and their death has often remained invisible."

Germany’s confirmed death toll from Covid-19 was 79,914 on Sunday, an increase of 67 over the previous day. That is the fifth-highest total in Europe, after the UK, Italy, Russia and France.

Germany had a comparatively small number of deaths in the pandemic’s first phase, but had much higher infection levels in autumn and winter.

In January, more than 1,000 deaths a day were reported at times in the country of 83 million people.

Infections have increased again over the past two months as a more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain took hold.

Germany has reported 3.14 million cases since the pandemic began.

Anita Schedel, whose doctor husband Hannes died a year ago, called on Germans to keep sticking to the rules to contain the virus.

“Even though corona fatigue is increasing after 12 months of the pandemic, I appeal to you all: hang in there,” Ms Schedel said. “It comes down to every single person.”

Mrs Merkel is trying to have a bill passed by Parliament that would provide the power for an “emergency brake” in areas where there are more than 100 weekly new cases for every 100,000 people.

The nationwide rate was 162 on Sunday.

It would require shutting shops, cultural and sports centres, limits on personal contacts and night-time curfews.

It is meant end the patchwork of measures that has been the pandemic response across Germany’s 16 states.

Mrs Merkel says the plan is needed to prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, but state governments and others have criticised it.

Meanwhile, Germany’s vaccination campaign is starting to gather pace after a much-criticised slow start.

“We are worn out by the burden of the pandemic and rubbed raw by the argument about the right way” to deal with it, Mr Steinmeier said.

“That’s another reason why we need a moment to pause, a moment beyond daily politics, a moment that allows us to look together at the human tragedy of the pandemic.”

He also remembered those who died of other causes since the crisis started, saying many “were alone under the conditions of the pandemic. They died without support and a farewell".

Finja Wilkens, whose father Hans-Gerd died of leukaemia in November, recalled being unable to see him other than sometimes by video call from hospital.

“My dad was always there, for us and for others, and it wasn’t possible for us to be there for him at the most difficult time of his life,” Ms Wilkens said.

“We feel as though we left him in the lurch.”