Angela Merkel has performed a U-turn on plans to put Germany under a hard lockdown over Easter following a critical backlash, describing the decision to close churches and shops over a five-day period as a mistake.
Addressing the public at a press conference on Wednesday morning, the German chancellor said the plan for an Easter lockdown had been her personal mistake, “and mistakes should be called out as such”.
Merkel said she regretted that her proposal had caused further uncertainty and asked for forgiveness from the German public, whose growing frustration with the government’s cumbersome decision-making and glacial vaccine rollout is threatening to damage her party before national elections in September.
Following an acrimonious summit between the chancellor and the heads of Germany’s 16 federal states on Monday, Merkel had announced an extension of the partial lockdown until 18 April, as well as a tightening of restrictions from 1-5 April designed to “break the exponential growth of the third wave”.
The proposals were immediately questioned by epidemiologists, business associations and members of Merkel’s own political bloc.
Under the planned Easter lockdown, all shops and business would have been told to remain shut for five days in a row, while grocery stores were to briefly reopen on Holy Saturday – a proposal that many feared would lead to crowded aisles and super-spreader events in supermarket queues.
Business associations were dismayed, with the president of the German Automotive Industry Association warning it was “unimaginable” to put entire factories on halt in an international networked industry.
Merkel’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, of the Christian Social Union (CSU), criticised the request for churches to hold Easter services online.
On Wednesday morning, the chancellor scheduled an emergency conference call with the heads of the federal states in which she conceded that the Easter lockdown had been a mistake.
“If possible, we should correct it in time,” Merkel told the politicians on the call, according to German media. “I believe it’s still possible.”
Of other decisions announced on Tuesday, an emergency break on further reopenings that will apply to areas exceeding 100 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period remains in place.