German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday defended harsh new decommissioning measures her government has announced against coronavirus, warning that propaganda and conspiracy theories are undermining the fight against the pandemic.
The popular Merkel urged the Germans to rally behind her to respect the restrictions and reject those who refused to follow the established science to combat the spread of the disease.
“Let me be clear: lies and misinformation, conspiracy and hatred damage not only democratic debate, but also the fight against coronavirus,” she told the lower house of parliament.
The speech, which was interrupted by Jews from the ranks of the far-right AfD party, led to a rare interference from House Speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, who threatened troubled MPs with sanctions.
Merkel agreed with Germany̵
Schools, nurseries, shops and other important businesses remain open and there are no restrictions for people leaving their homes unlike countries hardest hit like France and Spain.
She won widespread support across the political spectrum, but industry groups warned that small businesses in particular would have difficulty surviving despite € 10 billion ($ 12 billion) in earmarked state aid.
Protons from corona skeptics have also taken shape across the country in recent months and sometimes erupted in violence.
Merkel told deputies on Thursday that with new cases doubling over the past week and intensive care units rapidly approaching capacity, tight restrictions were the only responsible choice.
“The measures we take are appropriate, necessary and proportionate,” she said.
“At the beginning of the cold time of the year, we are in a dramatic situation.”
– ‘Desperation’ –
She said her goal was to reduce personal contact among Germans to an “absolute minimum” to flatten the basket of new infections.
But she said she “understands the frustration, yes the desperation” in sectors that will carry the weight of the shutdown.
“The winter will be harsh – four long difficult months – but it will end,” Merkel said.
Germany came through the first phase of the pandemic better than most of its neighbors, with a total death toll of just over 10,000 in the European Union’s most populous country.
But it has been shaken by a series of often large-scale demonstrations against government measures to tame the virus, with political activists accusing Merkel of exploiting the pandemic for a coup.
Merkel pushed hard back against such claims, calling populism “not only unrealistic but also irresponsible.”
“The things that science has proven wrong must be called out,” she said.
Merkel is at the height of her popularity as her fourth and final term ends next year.
“Freedom does not mean that everyone does what they want, but that everyone has a responsibility,” she said.
dlc / hmn / bp