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Merkel 'concerned' as Germany inches to reopen

Merkel warned Monday that unless people continue to follow rules and advice like keeping their distance from others and wearing masks, the picture could again worsen.

FILE: Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Picture: AFP

FRANKFURT AM MAIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel is "greatly concerned" that virus-fighting discipline among the German public may ebb as the country takes its first steps out of a month-long lockdown, AFP learned from party sources Monday.

The veteran leader warned against "orgies of discussion about opening up" society, in a telephone conference with leaders of her centre-right CDU party on Monday morning, participants in the call said.

After an apparent race among regional leaders last month to appear the toughest in announcing lockdown measures, some politicians have begun pushing for even faster loosening than the reopening of smaller shops and schools Merkel announced last week.

Business lobbies have been pressuring the government to move faster, but initial steps agreed between Berlin and state capitals are tentative.

From Monday, shops up to 800 square metres (8,600 square feet) can reopen as long as they impose hygiene controls, while next week will see selected cohorts of pupils return to classrooms.

On Friday, health minister Jens Spahn said the pandemic was "once again under control" in Germany, as the number of people infected by each person with the virus dropped below one.

But Merkel warned Monday that unless people continue to follow rules and advice like keeping their distance from others and wearing masks, the picture could again worsen.

She and her ministers will track the impact of the opening up measures over the coming days until 30 April, when the lockdown is currently set to expire.

But it could be 8 or 9 May before the true impact from reopening businesses and schools is seen, Merkel said, according to the sources.

So far most Germans have expressed overwhelming support for the lockdown, with around 90% backing it according to polls earlier this month.