BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans on Thursday to stop complaining about the slow roll-out of a vaccine against COVID-19 and defended a decision to extend a lockdown as necessary to stem a more aggressive variant of the coronavirus.
Speaking at a news conference, Merkel said it would be a mistake to ease curbs now given the mutation first identified in England had been found in Germany, Europe’s most populous country and largest economy.
“Our efforts face a threat and this threat is clearer now than at the start of the year and this is the mutation of the virus,” said Merkel, adding that the new variant was not yet dominant in Germany.
Merkel defended a decision to secure vaccines against the virus through the European Commission, dismissing advocates of a go-it-alone approach who say Germany could have secured more vaccines faster on its own.
Germany has had to delay opening some of its vaccination centres as it received fewer shots than expected due to a temporary slowdown of deliveries of vaccines from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
“I understand the impatience,” said Merkel, when asked if she owed Germans an apology. “There is no reason whatsoever to criticise BioNTech. Those are people who work day and night … and we are benefiting from this. How can we even complain?”
Germany, which has been in lockdown since early November, reported more than 1,000 deaths and more than 20,000 new infections on Thursday. Merkel and state leaders agreed on Tuesday to extend a hard lockdown that keeps schools, restaurants and all non-essential businesses shut until Feb. 14.
‘WE CANNOT WAIT’
Merkel said the measures were more urgent now to prevent the mutation from spreading and causing even more havoc.
“We cannot wait for this threat to hit us, meaning an aggressive increase in infections, that would be too late to prevent a third wave of the pandemic. We can still prevent this. We still have some time.”
The conservative chancellor said vaccines can be adapted for new variants of the virus and Germany should be able to vaccinate everyone by the end of the summer.
She added that Germany was not planning border controls to try to stem the spread of the virus as it was vital not to disrupt the free flow of goods within the European Union.
“We can’t rule out border closures, but want to prevent them though cooperation within the European Union,” said Merkel, adding that her government was discussing testing protocols for cross-border commuters with neighbours.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Riham Alkousaa and Zuzanna Szymanska; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)