"The yardsticks for our actions are set by what we are told by scientists and experts," explained Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint press conference with Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn and the President of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar H. Wieler. The virus has now reached all of Europe, so it is now a question of dealing with it.
We still have no vaccine and no treatment. If this remains the case, it is probable, as we know from other epidemics, that a high percentage of the population will become infected. Experts forecast between 60 and 70 per cent. Nevertheless, what we do now is not immaterial, said the Chancellor.
"It is all about buying time," explained Angela Merkel. The procedures adopted in Germany are guided by the aim of minimising the strain on our health system. We can do this by delaying the spread of the virus – for instance by cancelling events that involve large gatherings of people.
The Chancellor stressed that measures are geared in particular at protecting elderly people and people with pre-existing conditions. "This is a test for our solidarity, our common sense, and our empathy and consideration for one another." The Chancellor thanked all the medical staff who are already under "enormous pressure" and all those who are working to care for the sick and to contain the virus.
Coordinated action is important at every level of government. The Chancellor advocated comparable action in all federal states wherever possible. "I believe it would be good from national to local level to follow the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute and to let these guide our actions." It is really not the worst thing in the world if football matches cannot be held as usual. "If that means we can help ensure that people who are sick, or elderly people do not find themselves in a situation where we might no longer have appropriate medical treatment, then that is exactly the sort of action we need at this time," said the Chancellor.
"The virus is here, and we’re going to have to deal with it," stressed Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. The speed at which it spreads will be a major factor in determining how well the health system can cope with it. That is why it is important for everybody to give up some elements of their everyday life, in order to protect themselves and others. "We must balance restrictions and limitations on the one hand with the need for everyday life to continue on the other," said Jens Spahn.
Angela Merkel pointed out that one focus must be on research. 140 million euros are now available for vaccination programmes. We still know too little about the novel virus, but we are gradually discovering more and "assessments of the situation are becoming clearer".
The virus is leaving its mark on the economy too, which is why the government has acted swiftly. The Chancellor pointed to the introduction of less stringent rules for short-time work allowance, to Germany’s good social welfare system and to the fact that workers continue to receive payment during sickness.
Before the end of the week, the German government is to provide liquidity assistance for companies, in particular through the state-owned Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW). The heads of state and government of EU member states have agreed to adopt a flexible approach to the Stability and Growth Pact and to rules on state aid.
On Friday evening Angela Merkel is to meet with employers and trade unions to consider additional measures to address the economic consequences of the corona crisis.