Soldiers, experts to help German cities as virus cases rise

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Friday that the federal government will offer German cities the help of soldiers and public health experts to battle a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel walks to a media statement after a video conference with mayors of German cities on the spread of the coronavirus disease, in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 9, 2020. (Axel Schmidt/Pool via AP)

Merkel said she and the mayors of 11 large cities have agreed on measures to slow the spread of the virus by ensuring that social distancing and hygiene rules are respected and contact tracing can continue — despite the growing number of infections Germany is now experiencing.

“We all feel that the cities, the metropolitan areas, are the places that will determine whether we can keep the pandemic in Germany under control, just as we managed to do for months, or whether we will lose control,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. “That’s precisely the point we’re at now.”

Germany has won wide plaudits for slowing the spread of the coronavirus when it first broke out but is grappling with what to do now that it seems to be picking up again. The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 4,516 new cases of coronavirus overnight Friday, and many cities have now reached the critical warning level of 50 new infections per 100,000 residents.

Berlin’s mayor Michael Mueller told reporters Friday that large gatherings had to be avoided and people need to take precautions on public transport, among other things. “We need to prevent a lockdown,” he said.

Berlin’s figure was at 51 per 100,000 residents, while Bremen was at 53.9, and Cologne and Essen were close, with 49.8 and 48.4 per 100,000 respectively, according to the Robert Koch Institute. Overall, German has counted 314,660 coronavirus cases, with 9,589 deaths, a toll one-fourth that of Britain and one-third that of Italy.

The measures agreed upon after a video call between Merkel and the mayors include for the Robert Koch Institute to send advisers to cities that see more than 35 new cases per 100,000 residents in a week. Above that threshold, the German army will also provide soldiers to assist cities that request help, for example with contact tracing.

Once the number of new cases reaches 50 per 100,000 in a week, cities will impose further requirements to wear face masks in public, introduce curfews, restrict the sale of alcohol or limit the number of people who can take part in private events.

“These days and weeks will decide how Germany copes with the pandemic in the winter,” Merkel said. She added that the experience of last spring, when Germany managed to flatten the curve of infections quickly, showed that “we are anything but powerless.”

“My top priority is to avoid, if at all possible, to power down economic and public life again the way we had to in spring,” she added.

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