The responsibility to do everything in our power to prevent a relapse
FEDERAL CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Ladies and gentlemen, the Heads of Government of the Länder and I held discussions once again about the major challenges that all members of the public and also all levels of our federal country are facing in the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no template whatsoever for this challenge and no historical experience for us to draw on, and we’re finding out more and more each day thanks to the work of scientists, and we have to keep on learning.
I’m very pleased that we’re holding these discussions very regularly now, always about every 14 days. They help us to take steps together. They help us to take decisions with a common strategy in mind. But we are, of course, a federal country, which means that approaches vary from region to region. This will, in view of these regional differences, always be the case in a country like Germany.
But I think it is in the interests of the people, the members of the public, that there is a strategy and a goal in this pandemic for the whole of Germany. Allow me therefore to reiterate what this objective is. Since there is neither a medicine nor a vaccine against this virus, our aim will always be to slow down its spread, and to slow it down to such an extent that our healthcare system and our hospitals are able to cope with the number of people with severe symptoms as a result of the virus and that they are able to offer each and every patient the best possible medical care.
We have managed to do this until now. We have all achieved a great deal in recent weeks. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody once again for having followed the rules and for continuing to do so in the future, for bearing with restrictions and putting the good of society ahead of their own interests time and again. Many are continuing to do this, and I would like to ask everyone to keep on doing just that.
But I would like to include more people in my thanks today, namely all those who, in the efforts to power up our public life, our economy and social spheres, are giving thought to how this can take place. I’m impressed to see how, sector for sector and sphere by sphere, concepts are being devised with a close eye for detail that focus precisely on the things that are important, that are so decisive in the efforts to fight this virus, namely on keeping distance, protecting ourselves and others, wearing masks, whether to ensure safety in the workplace or in the life of society. These prudent occupational safety concepts with social distancing and hygiene rules or the proposals by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Youth Affairs and the proposals made by religious communities that we have now seen are an example of how to shape everyday life against the backdrop of the pandemic. Very good progress is being made in all of this.
Once such concepts have been elaborated, then it is, of course, the responsibility of policymakers to decide how things can start up again. Such matters are difficult to decide and weigh up. There are no automatic solutions, but rather we must consider the overall situation carefully in every single case. Time and again, we have a great responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure that we don’t relapse into a more difficult phase, but that we forge ahead step by step.
We have managed so far to slow the spread of the virus. This must continue to be our guiding principle as, after all, the scientists from the leading research organisations keep telling us that we should, indeed we must, work to bring down the number of infected people still further, even if this figure is already much lower today. Above all, the aim is also for us to be in a position to trace the chains of infection. The public health service has achieved tremendous things in this regard. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to all those working for these public health services. A large part of our future depends on them right now, which is why we have supported and strengthened them.
Each decision to ease the restrictions in place so far naturally leads to people being out and about in public and meeting one another to a greater extent once again, resulting in busier city centres and more people on public transport. We must therefore constantly keep an eye on the inevitable impact that this will have on possible new infections. I think the Federation and the Länder are in agreement on this, and this is also reflected in our decision. It therefore continues to be absolutely essential that we remain disciplined, that we maintain a safe distance from one another and that we observe hygiene rules.
In all future measures, we will always weigh up carefully what this means in terms of healthcare, what impact this has on the social cohesion of our society and, above all, what the economic aspects of this are. All these things must be carefully weighed up against each other. We know that – and this is also something that we gave expression to today – the Federal Government and the Länder must take steps to ensure that we notice at an early stage if the curve of infections becomes steeper again. We must therefore have a warning system and be prepared to respond if necessary. I’m very grateful that we agree on this.
Today’s discussions were therefore an intermediate step. After all, the 12 to 14 days before we know what effect all of this will have on our rate of infection will not elapse until 6 May. We call to mind the opening of shops, which is why we will meet again as soon as next week. We have therefore taken individual decisions today, but will be adopting a more far-reaching package again next week.
Today, the focus was once again on our acknowledgement that we will not be able to allow major events to take place before 31 August. Specifically, these include major sporting events, public celebrations with spectators, major concerts, festivals, village, town, street, wine and shooting festivals and funfairs. These will therefore have to remain prohibited for a prolonged period of time.
I would like to thank the churches and religious communities for putting forward an excellent concept. Responsibility for this lies with the Länder, but it will be possible to hold church services again under the measures that have been elaborated here together with the churches and religious communities.
We have decided that, subject to specific conditions, playgrounds will also be allowed to reopen – the Länder will reach decisions on the details here – as well as, subject to specific conditions, cultural institutions such as museums, exhibitions, galleries, memorials and zoological and botanical gardens.
On 6 May, we will evaluate the concepts of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, Youth Ministers and Ministers of Sport and make very clear decisions on the order and the way in which school and day care centres can be attended again, including certain sporting activities, of course subject to specific conditions.
We also talked about the fact that we should, of course, offer other sectors a roadmap for the future. That is why the competent conferences of ministers are being instructed to prepare plans and framework conditions for the gradual opening of bars and restaurants, as well as tourism facilities and for other cultural institutions by the conference following 6 May – we haven’t yet fixed a precise date for this – provided, of course, that the infection rate permits this.
We have heard today about the unemployment figures and about the number of people on reduced hours. We know that there have been profound economic impacts that we are seeking to cushion. Nevertheless, these are, of course, bound up with tremendous hardship for employees, for business owners, for the self-employed and many others. That is why we are keeping these issues in mind. But I firmly believe that we’re also acting in the best interests of the economy, including in the interests of social contacts, if we consider that we can take steps forward in allowing more contacts, but that we mustn’t go backwards. That’s why caution and compliance with hygiene measures continue to be the order of the day.