“We need to remain disciplined”
FEDERAL CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Ladies and gentlemen, the corona cabinet met again today. The main topic was how we want to proceed in the coming days.
Our talks focused on one point in particular, namely face masks and protective equipment. Ministers Altmaier and Spahn have already briefed you. One reason we discussed this topic in such detail during the corona cabinet meeting is because global demand in this sector has naturally multiplied as a result of the corona pandemic and will remain at a very, very high level for a longer time. That is why we are taking two types of action, but also why we face two types of challenge. On the one hand, we have set up a procurement task force in the Federal Ministry of Health. Its main role is to secure more supplies from abroad, that is, to get more face masks to Germany. At the moment, production is mainly based in Asia. Ninety percent of face masks are produced in Asia. That is why we need to become active in this sector. Normally, that is not something a Federal Government does, but we need to do so in this extraordinary situation. We are also very grateful that German companies are helping us with this.
On the other hand, we naturally also have a strategic interest in acquiring greater competence in this sector. That is why we spoke today about setting up a task force under the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs. Its role would be to boost domestic production of protective items and protective facilities, especially face masks. The groundwork for this has already been laid in the healthcare system. The German business sector has an interest in building up its own capacities in this field, too. We also want to do this as European partners because this topic affects all European countries. We believe this is one of the fields in which we as the European Union and the Federal Republic of Germany must achieve greater strategic independence once again.
Naturally, we were also briefed on the current situation and we can say that the latest developments as regards the figures on the spread of the virus give grounds for cautious hope. The growth rate is flattening somewhat and the number of people currently infected is declining slightly if we subtract those who have recovered and unfortunately those who lost their lives due to this pandemic. I want to reiterate that if 200 or more people die in a day, this number cannot leave us unmoved, as each death involves a human life and leaves a family, relatives and friends in mourning.
If I may say so now, because I do not want to deny it – and I am saying this again in particular before Easter – at the start, not all that long ago, I was often worried because the very rapid increase we witnessed made me think we might have to tighten our measures. It made me wonder if what we had agreed would be sufficient or if we would experience the same thing as some of our neighbouring countries and have to impose tighter measures. That is why I would like to say that we can be very happy that this is perhaps not necessary at the current point in time. But conversely, this means that we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. Instead, we should really be happy that tighter restrictions are perhaps not necessary.
To my mind, this means we cannot be reckless now. We cannot allow ourselves to feel too safe. I’m familiar with that feeling myself. You feel a bit hopeful; then you feel more confident; next thing you are somewhat more relaxed; and before you know it, you do something a bit reckless. No, we need to maintain our focus. The situation is fragile. The head of the Robert Koch Institute just said again that we cannot let our guard down. We need to keep this up over Easter and the following days because we can very, very quickly destroy what we have now achieved. This means we need to be focused and disciplined. That is what looking out for other people means – it means looking out for them by keeping our distance.
And that also means that this Easter will be very different to any other Easter we have ever experienced. It is certain to be a great challenge for many families and people. On top of that, the forecast is for good weather almost all over Germany, and naturally that will be tempting, so I would like to thank all those who are sticking to the regulations and to ask everyone to continue doing so.
I want to expressly warn people against feeling that we might get off more lightly than others or than we expected. Yes, the trend is that we are somewhat better off today. The time it takes for infections to double has increased, and there are now more days between this growth – in sharp contrast to the early days. But when we think about how we can move to the next phase, we realise we will be entering a stage where we do not know what the impact of relaxing our measures will be. That is why we need to be on firm ground. And that is why I appeal to people to continue adhering to the measures. It is also why I want to state clearly that we will have to live for a longer time in and with this pandemic. That is why we need to be very, very careful, and it is why, if at all, we need to take small steps and observe what happens each time. After all, our aim is to ensure that our healthcare system is not overwhelmed in any way and that we can give everyone the health treatment they need.
Of course, next week will be a week with important discussions. In recent days, a large number of studies have been published on the question of what steps can be taken to relax the measures. To my mind, the study by the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina will be very important. It is due to be published on Monday or rather Tuesday, and will explore the question of how we can proceed if the experts tell us we are on firm ground as regards improvements in the number of people infected. Naturally, not only virologists and epidemiologists have been involved in this study, but also economic experts, sociologists and ethicists, that is, people who understand life in society as a whole and who are thus able to draw the right conclusions.
On this basis, and on the basis of all the discussions taking place, I will then speak on Wednesday with the heads of the Land governments. The Federal Government will meet again before that on Tuesday when we will hold a corona cabinet video conference. I am very interested to hear what we will discuss. We have had a lot of contact and worked very closely with the minister-presidents the entire time. That is also the prerequisite for us to be able to overcome the whole situation together. Naturally, we will inform you about any decisions we make.
Until then, I would like to address the public, that is, us all, once again. We have demonstrated great strength together in the past weeks. Now, particularly before Easter weekend, it is important that we keep up our good work. The same goes as before – you are protecting everyone for whom the virus can be a deadly threat; you are protecting our healthcare system by keeping your distance and minimising your contacts. And I mean everyone, all of us here in Germany, without exception. We need to be consistent and to keep up our efforts. And then, as recent days have in fact shown, we will be able to protect the country against the virus and withstand this difficult test, which will last in one form or another for quite some time, until the very end.
Thank you very much indeed!