Germany is facing its biggest challenge “since the Second World War” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a television address urging citizens to heed sweeping confinement measures.
In her dramatic appeal, Merkel urged everyone to play a part in slowing down a virus that has raced across the globe and triggered unprecedented peace-time lockdowns.
“The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity,” she said.
Although her 15 years in office have been marked by blows like the financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis and Brexit, the veteran leader has never taken to the airwaves to address citizens directly outside of traditional New Year’s greetings.
“I truly believe we can succeed in this task, if all citizens truly understand their own tasks,” Merkel said.
Federal and local governments have shut down schools, many businesses and public spaces in recent days in increasingly desperate attempts to slow the spread of the virus.
The country has however stopped short of ordering people to stay home, in contrast with the tougher restrictions introduced in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
Yet Germans have continued to go outside to enjoy the spring sunshine and socialise, even holding “corona parties” as the authorities’ struggle to hammer home the message that people must avoid social contacts.