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Angela Merkel has been accused of cherrypicking expert coronavirus advisers who agree with her in order to push through her demands for a tougher lockdown.
Germany agreed new lockdown measures on Tuesday, with Mrs Merkel is pushing for tighter restrictions despite falling infection numbers. She is said to be concerned new mutations of the virus detected in Britain and South Africa could cause a new surge of infections in Germany.
Germany is to extend its lockdown until February 14 and tighten restrictions. Fractious talks between Angela Merkel and regional leaders stretched on for over eight hours and continued late into the night.
At pone point they agreed to take a ten-minute break to cool tempers, as regional leaders objected to Mrs Merkel's demands to keep schools and nurseries closed.
Eventually a compromise was agreed under which individual regions are free to reopen schools but attendance will remain optional. Most regions are expected to keep them closed.
Other measures agreed include the mandatory use of FFP2 medical grade facemasks on public transport, in place of the cloth facemasks currently used. But regional leaders stopped short of imposing a national curfew, or making it compulsory to work from home. Instead employers are to be strongly encouraged to allow staff to work from home.
Sources close to her coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SDP), on Tuesday accused of her deliberately stacking a panel of experts with advisers who agreed with her. Regional leaders met with the panel on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s talks with Mrs Merkel on lockdown measures, but several were said to be unhappy at the exclusion of dissenting scientific voices.
There was particular disquiet after Mrs Merkel reportedly blocked a move by regional leaders to invite Klaus Stöhr, a German virologist who has served as head of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Global Influenza Programme and its Sars research coordinator.
Dr Stöhr has been an outspoken critic of Germany’s lockdown policy and called for the government to shift to targetted action to protect the elderly and most vulnerable.
“We have to move from wishes to reality,” Dr Stöhr told German television recently. “It is not enough to say you want zero corona. You have to get there somehow.”
He argues hard lockdowns have failed in the UK, France and Austria, and that the current German target of reducing the weekly infection rate to under 50 per 100,000 people is unrealistic in the winter months.
The government panel, which was dominated by rival scientists who have called for harder lockdown and a “zero Covid” policy.
Mrs Merkel came under fire from the German press over the panel’s make-up — and not only from papers that have long been critical of the lockdown like the mass-selling Bild. Writing in the usually more supportive Spiegel magazine, the commentator Lydia Rosenfelder described the panel as “alarmism to order”.