German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for 'mega-lockdown' to stop spread of COVID-19

Angela Merkel.
Angela Merkel. Photo credit: Reuters

Germany recorded a new record number of deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday, prompting calls for an even tighter lockdown after the country emerged relatively unscathed in 2020.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted a "mega-lockdown", mass-selling newspaper Bild reported, shutting down the country almost completely for fear of the fast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in Britain.

She was considering measures including shutting down both local and long-distance public transport, though such steps had not yet been decided, Bild said. However, state officials were resisting tighter measures, state sources told Reuters.

At a meeting of top officials from her party on Thursday, Merkel called for "very fast action" against the spread of virus mutations, participants told Reuters. She also wanted to bring forward a meeting with regional leaders planned for Jan. 25.

While Germany's total deaths per capita since the pandemic began remain far lower than the United States, its daily per capita mortality since mid-December has often exceeded that of that country.

Germany's daily death toll currently equates to about 15 deaths per million people, versus a U.S. toll of 13 deaths per million.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 25,164 new coronavirus cases and 1,244 fatalities, bringing Germany's total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 43,881.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, ruling parties in the eastern state of Thuringia said they were postponing a regional election scheduled for April 25 until Sept. 26, the same day as this year's federal election.

Germany initially managed the pandemic better than its neighbours with a strict lockdown last spring, but it has seen a sharp rise in cases and deaths in recent months, with the RKI saying people were not taking the virus seriously enough.

RKI president Lothar Wieler said on Thursday restrictions were not being implemented as consistently as they were during the first wave and said more people should work from home, adding that the current lockdown needed to be tightened further.

Germany introduced a partial lockdown in November that kept shops and schools open, but it tightened the rules in mid-December, closing non-essential stores, and children have not returned to classrooms since the Christmas holidays.

Hospitals in 10 out of Germany's 16 states were facing bottlenecks as 85 percent of intensive care unit beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, Wieler said.

So far only about 1 percent of the German population has been vaccinated, or 842,455 people, the RKI reported.

Germany has so far recorded 16 cases of people with the fast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the variant from South Africa, Wieler said, although he admitted gene sequencing of samples was not being done broadly.

Wieler urged people who were offered a COVID-19 vaccination to accept it.

"At the end of the year we will have this pandemic under control," Wieler said.