Merkel under fire over German Covid-19 lockdown law

Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing opposition to proposed lockdown measures as infections rise rapidly in the country

epa09132432 German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement after a cabinet meeting in Berlin, 13 April 2021. The German cabinet in its 137th session agreed on a change of the German Infection Protection law amid the coronavirus pandemic that would allow the implementation of countrywide counter-measures in case of a certain rate of infections. Both chambers of the German parliament still have to approve the amendment.  EPA/ANDREAS GORA / POOL

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday faced opposition to her plan for a law to force coronavirus lockdowns on areas with high infection rates.

The plan includes imposing curfews, which has drawn particular criticism.

As infections rise rapidly and hospital beds fill up, Mrs Merkel's government is pushing Parliament to change the Infection Protection Act, enabling federal authorities to enforce restrictions even if regional leaders resist them.

Reiner Haseloff, premier of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, said motivating people to co-operate in pulling down infection rates would be better than banning them from leaving home at night.

"If no one co-operates any more, then we have a problem," Mr Haseloff, a member of Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats, told MDR television.

"Then it doesn't matter how many laws we make."

Saxony-Anhalt has the third-highest infection rate in Germany, behind Thuringia and Saxony, all of which are in the former Communist east.

Georg Maier, Interior Minister in Thuringia, also expressed concern about night-time curfews, saying it would be hard for the police to enforce them in the whole region.

"Especially here in eastern Germany, this is very sensitive," Mr Maier told the RND network.

He said curfews only worked when they were accepted by the population.

Unlike Britain and France, Germany has been reluctant to impose drastic limits on movement in a country fiercely protective of democratic freedom because of its Nazi and Communist past.

Opponents of the lockdown have held demonstrations across the country, particularly in the former east, which is more supportive of the far-right Alternative for Germany party that has criticised restrictions.

The law, due to be voted on by Parliament next week, states that curfews and limits on private gatherings will be imposed on regions where there are more than 100 new infections for every 100,000 residents.

That figure has already been exceeded in most of Germany.

Schools will have to return to distance learning if the virus incidence rises above 200 for every 100,000, as it has in Saxony and Thuringia.

The number of coronavirus cases rose by 21,693 on Wednesday to 3,044,016, while the death toll rose by 342 to 79,088.

The national seven-day virus rate for every 100,000 people rose to 153 from 141 on Tuesday.