German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday called for more public events to be cancelled and alluded to the possibility of school closures as Germany reported three more deaths linked to the outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
“This is a call to all,” she said in a press conference. “Where possible, social contact should be avoided.”
All unnecessary events with less than 1,000 people to be cancelled, she said, stepping up an earlier call to cancel all events with over 1,000 attendees.
Follow DW’s coronavirus live updates here
Regions particularly affected by the outbreak retained the option of closing all schools on a state by state basis, for example by moving forward the start of the upcoming Easter holiday, she said. Minutes before the press conference began, French President Emmanuel Macron had announced that all schools and universities in France would close starting on Monday.
Current measures are planned with a timeline of 4-to-5 weeks in mind. “This time period is crucial in terms of how things will develop,” the chancellor said.
The German leader said the coronavirus outbreak is even more exceptional than the 2009 Eurozone Debt Crisis.
“We are in a very unusual situation,” she added. “Extreme situations require extreme measures. This is anything but a small point in the course of history. It’s a decisive moment that demands a lot from us.”
German death toll mounts
Germany reported three more deaths related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, bringing the national total to six.
The Thursday fatalities included a 78-year-old woman in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, an 80-year-old man in Bavaria, and a 67-year-old man in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg.
The two male patients were the the first deaths outside of North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state where the majority of cases have been reported.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in Germany currently stands at 2,078.
Germany will ‘overcome’ virus, president says
Earlier in the day, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on people in Germany to adapt their routines in the wake of what the World Health Organization has now called a “global pandemic.”
“We need to change our daily lives — not gradually, but right now,” he said. “With everything we know today, we are looking at some very serious developments to come.”
He described the outbreak as a challenge “that we can and will overcome, thanks to our well-functioning health system.”
Panic-buying has left empty shelves in supermarkets — and food banks. With Germans snapping up canned goods and toilet paper to weather the outbreak, stores have fewer supplies left over to donate to the needy, said Jochen Brühl, head of Tafel Deutschland, which supports more than 1.5 million people with surplus groceries and other donations. Brühl encouraged those who had overreacted to donate.
Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged that all events with more than 1,000 participants be called off. The German Football League (DFL) has said it plans to consult with clubs and authorities to decide whether teams will play matches in empty stadiums, saying health was a “top priority.” The derby between FC Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach was the first ever Bundesliga match without fans.
Cultural life has also taken a hit, with major fairs and trade shows canceled or postponed. Among the casualties was the Leipzig Book Fair and the Musikmesse Frankfurt, Europe’s biggest music trade fair. Clubs and galleries have put off events across the country, and the gala award show for the annual German film and television award, the Goldene Kamera, has been moved to November.
Unlike in Italy, schools across Germany remain open, though there have been localized closings in certain hot spots. The German Teachers’ Association has estimated that around 100 schools and day care centers across the country were currently affected. Baden-Württemberg’s education minister said the state was preparing for the possibility of postponing school leaving examinations.
The Chinese origin of the virus has led to an increase in xenophobic sentiment in the places worst hit by the outbreak. Asian restaurants and stores — not just Chinese — have reported empty tables in Western countries like the US and Italy, and people with Asian features have experienced discrimination. At a recent Bundesliga game in Leipzig, a group of Japanese fans was ejected from the stadium.
German airline Lufthansa has reduced its flight capacity by 50% because of the coronavirus outbreak, grounding 150 planes and canceling some 7,100 flights through the end of March. The airline said its summer schedule will also likely be cut back. The cancellations are due in part to decreased demand: business travel is down, with more people working from home and avoiding unnecessary travel.
Car plants in China have been shut down since January, and major German automakers like Volkswagen and Daimler have said both sales and production have been hit by the epidemic. And with many automakers sourcing electric car parts from China, work at plants in Germany has also hit a stumbling block. Berlin has said it plans to financially support companies suffering coronavirus losses.
“The consequences for the German tourism sector are serious,” warned Guido Zöllick, head of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. In a recent survey of its members, 76.1% have reported a sharp decrease in bookings and a drop in revenue. In Berlin, the German parliament has announced that tourists won’t be allowed to access the glass dome of the Reichstag building until further notice.
After Italy and France, Germany has the largest number of coronavirus cases in Europe. In an effort to prevent further spread, authorities in Poland and the Czech Republic have begun spot checks, measuring the temperature of travelers crossing main road borders out of Germany. Poland plans to extend the controls to other railway and port crossings.
The elderly must act particularly carefully, German Social Affairs Minister Franziska Giffey said on Thursday.
“Older people, grandparents and their families should rethink their habits, for example by avoiding local public transport, stopping hugging people and not attending large public events,” she said.
The effects of a coronavirus infection have proven particularly severe for elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.
The eastern German city of Halle closed all schools and kindergartens, but some are concerned that closing schools can put grandparents who step in as caregivers under risk by putting them in contact with young children who may be infected.
Read more: Coronavirus, cold, or flu symptoms: Should I see a doctor?
“The surge is extremely quick,” Germany’s federal government agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, announced. On Wednesday Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that up to 70% of the population could become infected.
Merkel’s CDU party have canceled a conference scheduled for April 25 because of the outbreak, when Merkel’s successor as party leader was supposed to be elected.
kp,ed/sms (dpa, Reuters)