German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the coronavirus pandemic is “still at the beginning” and has warned her country: “We will be living with this virus for a long time.”
Mrs Merkel said she understood the urge to relax coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible, but moving too quickly risked setting back what had already been achieved.
In a speech to parliament on Thursday, she urged the country to be resilient, and said even though the numbers of new infections were starting to slow, more needed to be done in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning,” she said.
“We will be living with this virus for a long time.”
She said: “Let us not squander what we have achieved and risk a setback.
“It would be a shame if premature hope ultimately punishes us all.
“Let us all stay on the path in the next phase of the pandemic: smart and careful. It’s a long journey – we can’t run out of stamina and air too soon.”
Mrs Merkel said she understood that it felt like the country had been in lockdown for a long time.
She said it would remain difficult for some time yet, but that Germany’s health system was coping with the pandemic so far.
“We have won time,” she said.
“Every corona[virus] patient is receiving the best and most humane treatment, even in the most severe cases.”
Germany has the fifth highest COVID-19 caseload behind the United States, Spain, Italy and France, but has kept fatalities down after early and extensive testing.
It has reported more than 150,000 infections and more than 5,300 deaths, while more than 100,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University which is tracking the outbreak.
The latest figures showed cases of people recovering outnumbering new infections.
“It is precisely because the figures give rise to hope that I feel obliged to say that this interim result is fragile. We are on thin ice, the thinnest ice even,” Merkel said.
“We are still far from out of the woods.”
Germany’s gradual easing of restrictions will see social distancing rules stay until 3 May, with schools and hairdressers starting to reopen on 4 May.
It has taken the first steps to lifting its lockdown, by allowing some smaller non-essential shops to reopen.
Premises no larger than 800 square metres were allowed to resume business on Monday, along with bookshops, car showrooms and bike stores.
Germany is also among the countries that have enforced or strongly recommended the public wearing of face masks, along with mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, the Czech Republic and Singapore.
On Wednesday it was revealed all of Germany’s states planned to make the wearing of masks compulsory on public transport, and shoppers will be made to wear them in most states.
Turning to the economic response, Merkel said calls from some EU countries for common debt with shared liabilities was not the solution.
“That would be a very difficult process, cost time and wouldn’t even help anyone in the current situation, since we need rapid-fire instruments to tackle the crisis,” Mrs Merkel said.
Instead, she called for a European economic package aimed at supporting an upswing in the next two years.
The country is in a severe recession, according to its central bank, the Bundesbank.
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