BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged making mistakes in reacting to a spike in coronavirus infections and by not preparing Germany well enough for the vaccine rollout.
The response in the fall was “too hesitant,” and the government was too slow to require face masks during the first wave of the pandemic, the German leader said on Friday (Feb 12) in an interview with ZDF television.
She defended her strategy of procuring Covid-19 vaccines through the European Union, but admitted she should have explained the ramp-up better.
“I don’t want to beat around the bush: There is a disappointment,” she said.
“Maybe this disappointment has something to do with the fact that at first I found it fascinating that we even have a vaccine after less than a year. That is a huge achievement. You couldn’t count on that.”
Merkel reaffirmed that the EU ordered enough shots and that Germany will have sufficient doses available.
While TV interviews have been rare in the past, she has increased her direct appeals to the pandemic-weary public in recent weeks as she faces pressure over the slow pace of opening and the sluggish vaccine programme.
German authorities agreed this week to loosen some virus restrictions and open a pathway to a return to some semblance of normality after months of stringent curbs. With elections looming and Merkel’s tenure coming to an end, political positioning has played a role in Germany’s efforts to contain the disease.
The pace of easing will depend on the infection rate, which has been receding steadily in recent weeks, but remains above the level the government has determined to be manageable. To ease the burden on lockdown-fatigued citizens, schools can begin reopening as soon as this month and hairdressers from March 1.
Merkel and regional leaders set stiff criteria for non-essential stores to restart, while holding off on a broader easing plan amid concerns about fast-spreading virus strains. In the interview, she again cautioned against reviving Europe’s largest economy too quickly.
“It depends on us and smart opening steps whether we can get through the pandemic without a large third wave,” she said. If the contagion rate drops to below 35 cases per 100,000 people over seven days and if it stays there for at least two weeks, “we can look at the next step.”