Macron is 'untethered' without Angela Merkel says expert
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Thursday the closure of the borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian Tyrol which recorded high rates of coronavirus infections with highly contagious variants of the virus. The Czech Republic earlier announced a stricter lockdown in three districts, including two on the border with Germany, where coronavirus infections have soared above 1,000 per 100,000 residents over the past week.
“The introduction of border controls is required to prevent the virus (mutation) from being transmitted to Germany,” the Interior Ministry spokesman said, adding that details of how strict the measures will be were still being finalised.
Now Tobias Hans, the conservative leader of the small region-state of Saarland, in the southwest of Germany, said he will be left with no choice but to close his border with France and Luxembourg if infection rates do not slow down.
He told German news channel NTV: “If there are glaring differences between the incidences, then we will have no choice.”
He stressed that changes could affect border workers.
Controls had indeed been reinstated in spring 2020 in the Saarland, arousing the anger of those who cross this border daily.
German Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, has also said that a reinstatement of controls could not be “excluded”, but he calls for “caution.”
He said at a press conference: “We know what this means for both sides” of the border.”
The day before, the French Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, had estimated that the viral situation in the department of Moselle, bordering the Saarland, was “worrying” with more than 300 identified cases of South African and Brazilian variants.
Shortly afterwards, the mayor of Metz, François Grosdidier, spoke in favour of a new local lockdown.
On Thursday, Chancellor Merkel urged Germans to have a little more patience after agreeing with regional leaders to extend a coronavirus lockdown until March 7 and said restrictions would not last a day longer than necessary.
Addressing the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, Mrs Merkel said the extension was needed to avoid a third wave due to the risk posed by new virus variants.
“I know what we have achieved in our fight against the virus has had, and is still having, a high price,” said Merkel.
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A gradual fall in daily infections has raised pressure for an easing of tight restrictions in place since mid-December and Mrs Merkel agreed with state premiers on Wednesday that some schools and hairdressers could open sooner than March 7.
Seeking to reassure Germans that the lockdown was helping, Mrs Merkel said she was aware this was the most serious curtailment of freedoms in post-war Germany. She knew many people were lonely and worried about money and their future.
She said: “As a democracy, we have a duty not to keep the restrictions in place for a day longer than is necessary.”
Europe’s biggest economy shrank by five percent last year and some businesses are dismayed at the latest extension and the lack of a timetable for easing restrictions.
A vaccination programme offered hope for the coming months, said the German leader, adding that she understood people’s disappointment with the roll-out, which is far slower than in Britain, Israel and the United States.
To avoid a third wave of infections, however, a little more patience was required.
She warned: “I don’t think that the back and forth – opening up then closing down again – brings more predictability for people than waiting a few days longer.”
On Friday, Mrs Merkel said Germany will have difficulties making use of all available COVID-19 vaccines in April.
Once a 7-day coronavirus incidence of under 35 per 100,000 people is reached, further relaxations beyond the opening of shops may follow, she added.
She said: “For the next opening step after retail, we have to be careful whether we stay stable below 35.
“When we have opened up shops and we are stable below 35 for two weeks, then we can consider the next step.”
The number of new daily infections in Germany has been falling, prompting some regional leaders to push for a timetable to ease the lockdown, which has been in place since mid-December. But concerns are growing about the impact of more infectious variants of the virus on case numbers.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega
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