Merkel Pleads With Germans for Patience on Lockdown Measures

Patrick Donahue and Arne Delfs

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel said it’s premature to consider easing Germany’s lockdown measures as coronavirus infections can take as long as 14 days to incubate.

“We’re not even close to where we can see if the measures are working,” Merkel said via audio conference from Berlin in her first public comments since entering precautionary quarantine on Sunday.

The German leader isolated herself at home after she learned that she had come in contact with a doctor who later tested positive. Two initial tests turned up a negative result. Merkel spoke after back-to-back video conferences with leaders of the Group of 20 nations and European Union member states.

The G-20 said they were injecting more than $5 trillion to help buoy the global economy -- and that leaders will do “whatever it takes” to stave off economic catastrophe.

“The coronavirus hit the economy at the beginning of a recovery and thus in a sensitive phase,” Andreas Pinkwart, economy minister in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, told Bloomberg TV Friday. “So the measures taken to protect the health of our citizens are slowing down the economy in a drastic way.”

Pinkwart said he is hopeful that Germany will emerge from recession during the European summer and that the crisis, once it has passed, may be a chance to boost investment in Green projects.

Germans support the actions of Merkel’s government by a large majority of 89%, according to a survey for broadcaster ZDF published Friday. Three-quarters said public restrictions announced a week ago are right, while 20% said they weren’t sufficient.

Merkel bolstered her position as Germany’s most popular politician, and her Christian Democratic-led bloc gained seven points -- its biggest monthly increase in the poll’s history -- to 33%, according to the March 23-26 survey of 1,473 people.

European leaders, meanwhile, struggled to agree on a concrete strategy to contain the fallout from the pandemic, leaving key details to be hammered out in the weeks ahead. One of the sticking points was over financing recovery efforts, with some countries pushing for so-called coronabonds to jointly raise funds.

‘Preferred Instrument’

Merkel said the European Stability Mechanism “is the preferred instrument” for providing aid in the euro area.

Merkel’s government this week secured emergency spending powers to unleash a historic rescue package worth more than 750 billion euros ($824 billion). The measures -- including higher social spending, loans for businesses and funds to potentially buy stakes in stricken companies -- will be financed by 156 billion euros in new debt, blowing open the country’s previous commitment to balanced budgets.

Before entering quarantine, Merkel tightened Germany’s lockdown measures, including banning gatherings of more than two people. Last week, she called the disease the country’s biggest challenge since World War II.

In a worst-case scenario without government intervention, 88% of the German population would swiftly have been infected, with a death toll close to 900,000, according to a study published Thursday by an Imperial College London research team. Quick and aggressive measures could cut the death toll to some 22,600, the researchers found.

(Updates with study in final paragraph)

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