Merkel urges Germans to restrict contacts ahead of Christmas

German chancellor says she is 'really sorry' for having to insist on harder restrictions, but says they are unavoidable.

Merkel urges Germans to restrict contacts ahead of Christmas

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered an emotional appeal to German citizens, telling them they should prepare for more physical distancing ahead of Christmas to curb the rise of coronavirus infections.

“There are 14 days left until Christmas. And we have to do everything we can to prevent another exponential growth” of infection cases, Merkel told the Bundestag in a speech on Wednesday. She added that this meant reducing all non-essential contacts: “And as hard as this is — and I know how much love is behind when mulled wine stalls are set up, when waffle bakeries are set up — it is not compatible” with the required contact reductions, she said.

“I really am sorry, from the bottom of my heart. But if the price we pay is 590 deaths a day then this in unacceptable,” the chancellor stressed, getting visibly and audibly emotional.

The chancellor said she is backing advice from the German National Academy of Sciences, the Leopoldina, which recommended Tuesday to introduce a two-phase “hard lockdown” as of December 14, with all non-essential shops closing from December 24 to at least January 10. Leopoldina also advised extending the Christmas school break by a week until January 10.

“If science is begging us to allow a week of contact reduction before Christmas — before you see grandparents and elderly people — then maybe we should think again about finding some way” to make this possible, Merkel said.

“If we have too many contacts now before Christmas and afterwards it turns out to have been the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we will have missed something, and we should not do that,” Merkel said. “What will be said in retrospect on an event of the century, if we were not able to [act]?”

Merkel also cautioned that the imminent launch of coronavirus vaccinations is no quick fix to the pandemic: “We should approach things very realistically here. In the first quarter of 2021 … we will not yet be able to carry out enough vaccinations to see a significant change [of coronavirus cases] in the population,” she said.

The first vaccinations will mainly focus on high-risk groups such as elderly people as well as people in frequent contact with patients, like doctors and nurses, Merkel said.