Merkel backs ‘short, uniform lockdown’ across Germany

Country is struggling to contain infections of UK coronavirus variant

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday supported a “short, uniform lockdown” as the country tackles a high level of coronavirus cases fuelled by the spread of a more contagious variant first detected in Britain.

German state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, have taken differing approaches recently.

Some have continued to back limited reopening while others advocate a stricter shutdown.

Armin Laschet, a governor who also leads Mrs Merkel’s conservative party, called this week for a “bridge lockdown” of two to three weeks to control infections while Germany quickens its slow vaccination campaign.

Mr Laschet also called for a meeting between Mrs Merkel and governors to co-ordinate restrictions to be held earlier than next Monday, but he met resistance from his colleagues.

Mrs Merkel's spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said on Wednesday that there was “no majority” for that.

But Ms Demmer said: “Every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right.”

She said figures on new cases were not particularly good at the moment, because of lower testing and reporting over Easter.

But a rapid rise in the number of occupied intensive care beds “speaks a very clear language", Ms Demmer said.

“Joint action would be desirable,” she said. “The diversity of the rules that have been agreed on isn’t contributing at the moment to safety and acceptance.”

Mrs Merkel and the 16 state governors confer every few weeks on coronavirus measures.

Those sometimes large and ill-tempered meetings have drawn increasing criticism, particularly as governors have often taken different approaches to implementing what they agree to.

Last month, Mrs Merkel and the governors sparred for hours before announcing unexpected plans for a five-day Easter shutdown.

She then dumped the plans less than 36 hours later, after concluding they were unworkable, and apologised to Germans.

Meanwhile, Germany’s September 26 general election is casting a shadow.

Many considered the lockdown proposal from Mr Laschet, the Governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, to be the result of speculation over whether he or Bavarian Governor Markus Soeder would become the centre-right candidate to succeed Mrs Merkel.

Mr Laschet has often advocated allowing more businesses to open, and Mrs Merkel recently criticised his state for failing to keep to the rules that had been agreed on.

Mr Soeder has consistently advocated tougher restrictions. At present, polls suggest that voters are considerably more impressed by him.

A decision on the candidate is expected by late May.

Mr Soeder told ZDF television on Tuesday that he and Mrs Merkel had always backed Mr Laschet’s latest position, “and everyone who joins in, I think that’s great".

Germany’s infection rate is lower than that of other neighbouring countries, but it is still more than twice the maximum level of 50 new cases for every 100,000 residents that the government would like to see.

Germany has recorded 2.9 million cases and 77,401 deaths from or with Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

It has given a first vaccine dose to 13 per cent of its total population of 83 million, while 5.6 per cent have received two doses. Officials hope vaccinations will accelerate this month.

Mr Soeder said the Bavarian government planned to sign a preliminary contract on Wednesday with a company in the town of Illertissen for 2.5 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, probably in July, if it is approved by the European Medicines Agency.

A Russian company, R-Pharm, plans to start producing Sputnik V in Illertissen.