Angela Merkel sees German recovery accelerating once coronavirus is tamed

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed optimism that a recovery in Europe’s biggest economy will gather pace once the coronavirus pandemic is brought back under control.

Merkel said that while the situation remains “very serious,” officials are better equipped now to fight the disease than at the start of the outbreak in the spring. She cited recent progress in developing vaccines as another positive sign.

“We must bring the numbers down and keep them at a low level,” Merkel said Tuesday at a Sueddeutsche Zeitung conference. “And if that succeeds — we saw this in the third quarter of this year — then the economic recovery will significantly accelerate.”

Germany’s economy bounced back strongly after a collapse in activity in the spring, but new curbs introduced after a fresh wave of infections are likely to lead to stagnation at best in the final quarter. That’s despite financial aid for the hardest-hit sectors like hospitality and entertainment.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, speaking immediately after Merkel, said the government is making some 14 billion euros ($16.6 billion) available this month to ease the blow, up from the original allocation of 10 billion euros.

While the latest restrictions are less severe and more focused on hospitality and leisure activities, Germany’s critical export sector is suffering from a resurgence of the virus across Europe, the Bundesbank said Monday. On balance, it expects the hit to the economy to be smaller than after the lockdown in March and April.

Merkel on Monday failed to push through a range of tougher contact restrictions, thwarted by resistance from the country’s 16 state premiers. She had proposed requiring face masks for all school students and limiting playmates to one other child.

After a five-hour video conference with the regional leaders, she urged citizens to further limit public and private gatherings, while postponing decisions on a road map for the coming months to next week.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, indicated that the government would make another attempt to tighten curbs when the chancellor holds the next round of talks with state premiers on Nov. 25 — days before current measures are due to expire.

“Restrictions are never easy to decide on and have to be well thought through,” Braun said Tuesday in an interview with ZDF television. “We’re not making a secret of the fact that the chancellor and the government would like to have acted sooner.”

The dispute shows the fine line Merkel’s government is treading in trying to slow the pandemic without stoking social, political and economic tensions.

Two weeks into a partial shutdown — which closed bars and restaurants but kept schools and most shops open — Germany’s contagion rates are still almost three times the level authorities have determined to be manageable.

On Monday, incidence over the previous seven days was at 143 per 100,000 citizens, according to the RKI public health institute, and the government has said it must come down to around 50 to allow effective contact tracing.

There were 14,580 new infections in the 24 hours through Tuesday morning, taking the total to 817,526, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with more than 2 million cases in France, 1.5 million in Spain and 1.2 million in Italy.

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