German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Thursday for “patience” in the coronavirus crisis, saying that society will have to “live with the virus” until a vaccine becomes available.
“It will need patience… a lot will depend on whether people continue to keep their distance from one another and wash their hands,” said Merkel at a news conference.
Though the rate of infection has slowed in Germany in recent days, Merkel warned that COVID-19 “will not disappear before we have a vaccine to immunise the population: and that means living with this virus.”
The veteran leader said recent figures were cause for “cautious optimism”, but insisted that restrictions on public life would only be able to be rolled back on a step-by-step basis.
“I don’t want to take such a big step that it throws us back completely and we find ourselves once again with an exponential rise (in the number of cases),” she said.
Germany’s restrictions, which include a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and the closure of all non-essential shops, are currently in place until April 19, with the federal and state governments set to review them next week.
The debate over when and how to lift the measures continues to grow in Germany, especially after neighbouring Austria announced plans this week to relax its curbs.
Merkel said that Germany could be “happy” that it had avoided more stringent measures such as those in France, Spain or Italy, but warned that the situation was still “fragile”.
Restrictions would only be lifted “slowly”, she said, with their effectiveness reviewed on a “two to three week basis”.
Earlier Thursday, Health Minister Jens Spahn also warned that any relaxations would happen “step by step, if at all”.
The Easter weekend would be a “fork in the road” on the return to normal circumstances, he added.
Germany had 108,202 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for public health.
Just over 2,100 people have died, giving Germany a far lower coronavirus mortality rate than other European nations.
The country appears to be out of a period exponential growth, with Spahn noting that “the number of new infections is beginning to level off”.
Yet RKI president Lothar Wieler cautioned that it was too early to “talk about an easing-off”, as the daily number of new cases continued to fluctuate.
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