Merkel pushes for more powers to tighten COVID curbs

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel tried Friday to convince parliament to give Germany’s central government more powers to break a third wave of coronavirus infections.

“Intensive care physicians are sending out one emergency call after another — who are we to ignore these calls of distress?” Merkel asked in the Bundestag before lawmakers began to debate proposed changes to the Infection Protection Act.

For days, Germany’s most prominent scientific advisers on the coronavirus have been warning that something must be done quickly to curb the rise in new daily infections.

“We all know that we are in the third wave and the situation in the hospitals is getting worse and will hit us even harder than in the second wave,” Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s public health body, the Robert Koch Institute, said on Thursday.

“That’s why we must act now,” he added.

Although the infection law was updated recently, Merkel said last month that another change might be required to keep Germany’s 16 regional states from bending the rules around “emergency brakes” that they are meant to impose when cases reach high levels.

“Essentially, this addition to the Infection Protection Act means that we are going to implement the coronavirus emergency brake on the federal level,” Merkel said, adding that such a step was “overdue.”

Under Merkel’s plans, areas with more than 100 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous seven days must close all non-essential shops and introduce nighttime curfews — with no more leeway for state or local governments.

But the curfews, in particular, haven’t gone down well with opposition parties.

“The damage to trust in politics will be immense if you do not take constitutional concerns seriously,” said Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), who have been complaining for months about what they consider excessive, disproportionate and potentially unconstitutional pandemic restrictions.

“If you … do not take these complaints seriously, we as the FDP will see fit to go to Karlsruhe,” Lindner added, referring to the location of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court.

Alice Weidel, co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany, also voiced constitutional concerns.

“Never before has a federal government dared to include so many attacks on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, on the rule of law and democratic principles in so few sentences as in this draft law,” she said.

While Merkel may be able to get the changes through both houses of parliament next week, German media reported Thursday that the chancellor’s own legal experts had warned that some parts of the draft law were bound to be repealed by the courts.

Appearing tired, Merkel acknowledged public exasperation with politicians arguing over the best approach to tackle the virus.

“We politicians really don’t make it easy for you,” she said.

Nette Nöstlinger contributed reporting.

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