Merkel says ‘Let’s get through this’

German minister expects coronavirus crisis to last until end of May.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) clearing-up centre in Dresden
Medical staff inform people lining up for a test in a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) clearing-up centre in Dresden, Germany, March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told German broadcaster RTL that he expected the coronavirus crisis to last until the end of May.

“I expect we’ll have to deal with the consequences for the whole month of April and the whole month of May,” he said, adding there would be a “considerable number of new infections” during that time.

“So I wouldn’t advise anyone to bank on this being over in eight days,” Altmaier said

Meanwhile, German shops will close, restaurants cut their opening hours and churches and mosques will stand empty under drastic steps announced on Monday to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The measures took Germany a step closer to a total lockdown similar to those implemented in Italy and Spain, where most people have been confined to their homes.

Announcing the moves – particularly sensitive in a country that defends its civil liberties assiduously due to its memories of totalitarian rule under the Nazis and, in East Germany, the Communists – Chancellor Angela Merkel asked for cooperation.

“The better everyone sticks to these rules, the faster we’ll get through this phase,” she told a news conference. “And I think we all want to get through this as quickly as possible.”

Merkel said it was crucial to slow the spread of the virus so that the number of simultaneous acute cases never exceeded the capacity of the healthcare system.

“There is no sense in closing a school and then have the same gathering of children move to the playground instead,” she said. “We want to avoid having these areas of close contact.”

Asked if the crisis would result in rescue programmes for banks, companies and other European Union member states, Merkel said Berlin was willing to help, but that it was too early to talk about concrete steps.

The government now expects the economy to shrink this year, two senior officials said, depressing tax revenues and requiring higher state spending.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz promised to counter the social and economic impact of the epidemic “with full force”, without putting a figure on the promised fiscal push.

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