Germany's Angela Merkel wants 'very fast action' against coronavirus after record deaths

Anneliese Spies, 88, reads a book following her Covid-19 vaccination in Berlin, Jan 14, 2021.
Anneliese Spies, 88, reads a book following her Covid-19 vaccination in Berlin, Jan 14, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Chancellor Angela Merkel wants "very fast action" to counter the spread of Covid-19 mutations, she told a meeting of top officials from her party on Thursday (Jan 14) after Germany recorded a record number of deaths from the coronavirus.

Merkel also told the senior Christian Democrat officials that she wanted to bring forward a meeting with regional leaders planned for Jan 25, and that tougher measures must be discussed, participants at the meeting said.

"The virus can only be stopped with additional efforts," the participants quoted her as saying.

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

Germany's daily death toll currently equates to about 15 deaths per million people, versus a US 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.

Mass-selling daily Bild reported that Merkel wanted to shut down public transport services, but participants at another meeting contradicted that and reported her as saying: "We have to relieve the pressure on public transport by doing more home offices and thus reducing contacts."

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.

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 of Germany's 16 states were facing bottlenecks as 85 per cent of intensive care unit beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, Wieler said.

Only about 1 per cent of the German population, or 842,455 people, has been vaccinated, the RKI reported.

Germany has recorded 16 cases of people with a fast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the variant from South Africa, Wieler said, although he noted 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," he said.