BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans on Wednesday not to endanger what they have achieved so far in slowing the spread of the coronavirus by rushing back to normality too fast.
Europe’s biggest economy, battered by a lockdown that started in mid-March, is being closely watched after managing to keep its death rate lower than other countries despite having a high number of cases.
Shops, schools and factories have started up again, and some borders will begin to re-open this week. But the rule of keeping a distance of 1.5 metres from others still stands and masks are required on public transport and in most shops.
Merkel, a trained physicist whose scientific approach to the crisis has been praised, has consistently urged caution in the face of intense pressure from some state premiers and business who have pushed for a faster relaxation.
“Corona remains a danger for everyone of us,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding Germans would be living with the pandemic for some time yet as there was still no effective treatment or vaccine.
“It would be depressing if we have to return to restrictions that we want to leave behind us because we want too much too soon,” Merkel said.
Germany’s coronavirus reproduction rate, which Merkel says must remain below a critical threshold of 1 to avoid an overburdening of the health system, fell to an estimated 0.94 on Tuesday from 1.07 on Monday.
Merkel told Germans to return to offices, schools, cafes and sports clubs while keeping a distance and washing their hands. Then it will be possible for the economy to recover, jobs saved and for people to be protected.
One big step along that path is to re-open the borders in Europe, which would help commuters, families and tourism. Earlier, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer outlined a gradual easing of border controls from Saturday.
“The goal is, if the occurrence of infections allows it — I want to say that again — that from June 15, border controls in the Schengen area can be completely eliminated,” Merkel said.
Germany has 171,306 confirmed coronavirus cases, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, said, and 7,634 people have died.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Larry King)