Following the decision of the federal and state governments to adopt new measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel explained these decisions to the German Bundestag. The pandemic is a major test – in medical, economic, social, psychological, political and mental health terms. "It is a test we can only pass if we stand together," said the Chancellor, putting things in context.
Contact restrictions are the most essential element in the fight against the pandemic
In this case, that means scaling back all contacts to only what is absolutely essential. This is "the single most important element in the fight against the pandemic". The measures now agreed aim to "massively reduce the number of encounters people have in a wide variety of everyday situations – ideally by 75 per cent" in order to minimise the risk of infection.
Angela Merkel pointed out that there is no soft option to fight the pandemic and slow the rate of infection; only a "general and systematic reduction of contacts" will be effective. Alternative proposals that have been voiced, that advocate "completely isolating" high-risk groups are by no means less harsh, in view of the exceptional hardship this would entail for the affected individuals. The measures now agreed, she declared, are thus "appropriate, essential and proportionate".
The time to act is now
The number of people in intensive care has doubled within only ten days. If this trend continues unchecked, we will run out of intensive care capacity in a few weeks. Then it will be too late to prop up the health system. Equally though, and as a result, it will also be too late "to prop up the entire infrastructure of our country, including our economy and our social infrastructure".
"It is entirely up to us how things pan out," declared Angela Merkel. "It is up to every single one of us. It depends on our commitment, our stamina, and our consideration". The pandemic is a particularly severe test for our democratic society - "in many ways, all of which are relevant, all of which are painful, and all of which must be taken seriously".
Thanks to the people and to science
The Chancellor thanked the people and members of the German Bundestag for the "absolutely exceptional support for the measures taken to date". The pandemic has demanded so much from people, she declared. Many of the measures taken "were and are an incredible hardship" that goes to the heart of the way we interact at human level. The fact that the vast majority of people have accepted these in order to protect society as a whole, said Angela Merkel, "has impressed me and moved me deeply".
The Chancellor also thanked science, which "is making an incredibly important contribution to overcoming the pandemic". This also applies to the "outstanding expertise" of the Robert Koch Institute and many other scientists from a wide range of disciplines. "A very warm thank you! There is a lot of overtime being worked," underlined Angela Merkel. The workload of the local public health offices is also enormous.
The source of 75 per cent of new infections is now unknown
"I understand the frustration, even the desperation" of companies and branches that are particularly hard hit by the measures, stressed the Chancellor. The hygiene plans they have drawn up were not for nothing. They will be needed again. But given the current dynamics of the situation, they are powerless. "We can no longer identify the source of 75 per cent of infections. And we need to change that as quickly as possible," explained Angela Merkel.
Today freedom means accepting responsibility
The pandemic is demonstrating with unaccustomed clarity that "we are all part of a whole" underlined the Chancellor. These measures limit our freedom, but one thing is also apparent. "Freedom does not mean that everyone can just do what they want. Freedom now means accepting responsibility," declared Angela Merkel. "Responsibility for ourselves, for our families, for the people we work with, and in a wider context for all of us".
A critical debate about the measures is important and will strengthen democracy, she said. But at the same time she warned, "Playing down the threat, wishful thinking and trivialising the situation in a populist manner not only ignores the reality of our situation – it is irresponsible". "Lies, disinformation, conspiracy theories and hatred" not only harm democratic debate but also hamper efforts to fight the virus. "If something has been scientifically proven to be wrong, it must also be clearly stated that it is wrong," Angela Merkel stressed. "People’s lives depend on it."
With our combined forces we can overcome the pandemic
The cooperativeness and the public spirit that have been so much in evidence over the last few months give grounds for hope, said the Chancellor. "Just as we humans have already overcome so many huge problems in our history, now in the face of the pandemic every one of us can actively help overcome the pandemic with our combined efforts," stated Angela Merkel. She expressed the wish that, above all, "we all continue to support one another, that we work with one another and that we are there for one another". "That is the only way we will overcome this historic crisis!"