Merkel Warns Germany Shouldn’t Move Too Quickly With Easing

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(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel urged caution before taking another step to ease Germany’s containment measures as moving too quickly would risk a relapse to unsustainable rates of coronavirus infections and having to fall back on a stricter lockdown.

“We have achieved a lot, but we haven’t yet reached our target,” Merkel said on Monday after a meeting of her government’s coronavirus crisis cabinet. “It would be a crying shame if we would need to roll this back.”

Germany became one of the first countries in Europe to cautiously revive business activity after a month-long shutdown, as smaller shops, car dealerships, bike shops and book stores were allowed to reopen on Monday.

But the tentative steps toward normalcy is causing some unease even for Merkel, who said that the impact of the looser measures would only be known after 14 days.

In a closed-door meeting of her Christian Democratic party earlier on Monday, the German chancellor called on her colleagues to tone down talk of reopening the economy. “Discussion orgies” about loosening lockdowns threaten to destroy the progress in fighting the pandemic, she said, according to a participant, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

After introducing strict social distancing rules last month, the German chancellor has won plaudits for her aggressive efforts to address the fallout from the virus even as Europe’s largest economy is plunged into a deeper recession than during the financial crisis a little over a decade ago.

The country’s daily coronavirus cases have for the past two weeks consistently been below peak levels at the beginning of April, when the country reported more than 6,000 new cases a day. There were 2,018 infections in the 24 hours through Monday morning, taking the total to 145,742, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Despite those gains, Merkel’s caution suggests it will be a long, slow process to revive economic activity in what will be a critical test of Europe’s ability to recover from the crisis.

At the CDU meeting, Merkel expressed her hope that people would continue to follow rules designed to limit contact between people, but that she was skeptical about the latest developments. Over the weekend, the Berlin police broke up a protest and numerous parties, and parks were full.

As Europe’s largest economy tentatively reopens, Merkel said that Germany would intensify efforts to track infections to isolate outbreaks more quickly.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re at the very beginning of the pandemic,” said Merkel, who noted she abided by containment rules this weekend. “My concern, my plea is for us to stay focused.”

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