Leading epidemiologists in the country have warned the COVID-19 reproduction rate, which measures how many the average person carrying the disease infects, has crept up to a value of 1.0. The German Chancellor has warned hospitals will be overwhelmed by the end of June if that number continues to rise by just a small amount. She also said an increase in infections would make a second “shutdown” inevitable.
The return of coronavirus spread is likely to reopen bitter divides between regional leaders across Germany over how to manage infections.
Ministers will discuss the next steps in the new fight against coronavirus at a video conference tomorrow.
Over the past week, Germany’s 16 states have begun to reopen shops, schools, zoos and even churches.
However, there are still vast differences in opinion over how fast the restrictive measures should be lifted.
Mrs Merkel faces an internal rift within her centre-right Christian Democratic Union party with some senior figures calling for more restrictions to be lifted, claiming the economic damage poses a great risk than an increase in infections.
She said: “We have achieved so much, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we cannot gamble it all away.”
The veteran leader has placed the reproduction rate at the centre of her plan to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
If the so-called R0 figure remains below the value of one, it means cases will start to fall.
“If we get to a point where each patient is infecting 1.1 people, then by October we will be back at the limits of our health system in terms of intensive care beds,” Mrs Merkel added.
“If we get to 1.2… then we will hit the full capacity of our health system as early as July.
“And if it’s 1.3, we hit the full capacity of our health system in June. So you can see how little room for manoeuvre we have.”
Through social distancing, Germany managed to bring the R0 figure down to 0.7 from its peak of 1.3 in early April.
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The Robert Koch Institute, the government’s infectious disease agency, has said R0 has increased back up to 1.
Professor Lothar Wieler, the institute’s president, said there was no great cause for concern that the figure had started to climb.
He described R0 as “an important figure, but not the only holy grail” of epidemiology.
However, he urged German to continue taking precautions with their safety.
“We don’t want the number of cases to right again,” he said.
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“We don’t want to have to treat more people who are seriously ill with COVID-19 in our country. We don’t want our healthcare system to be overstrained.”
But some leading figures have been left more concern than others.
Markus Soder, the chief minister of Bavaria, who has overseen the tightest measures in Germany, said: “The new figures on the reproduction rate worry me and they show Bavarian caution is better than moving so quickly that you trip yourself up.
“We need a strategy like breathing: when things are better, you can go faster. When things get worse, you must proceed slowly.”
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