Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states agreed on new lockdown measures earlier this week – Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was heckled by opposition MPs during a speech to parliament on Thursday, while taking aim at groups spreading “lies and disinformation” as the country continues to battle the coronavirus crisis.
The speech, which took place the morning after Mrs Merkel announced a range of sweeping reforms to tackle the spread of the pandemic, warned that the German people find themselves in a “dramatic situation”.
On Thursday morning, Germany recorded 16,774 new daily coronavirus infections, the highest number of new cases within a 24-hour period since the pandemic began.
In a veiled criticism of the far-right Alternative for Germany – staunch opponents of the country’s lockdown measures – Mrs Merkel laid out a plea for unity.
“Lies, disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate not only damage democratic debate, but also the fight against the coronavirus” Mrs Merkel said.
“Soothing wishful thinking and populist trivialisation (of the coronavirus) is not only unrealistic, it is irresponsible.”
The speech was frequently interrupted by jeers from AfD MPs. Such interjections are rare in German parliament, with house speaker Wolfgang Schäuble threatening the hecklers with calls to order and criticising their “dangerous” behaviour.
Mrs Merkel called for calm amid “skyrocketing” infection rates.
“It is the beginning of the cold season and we find ourselves in a dramatic situation”, she said.
“This affects all of us without exception. Winter will be difficult; four long, difficult months. But it will end.”
While dismissing those who pedal disinformation during the pandemic, Mrs Merkel was careful to reinforce the country’s commitment to vigorous democratic debate.
“Critical debate does not weaken democracy, it strengthens it,” she said.
Mrs Merkel said she sympathised with the “frustration” many felt regarding the new rules, but reinforced their necessity to the public.
Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers her speech at the Bundestag – TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
“Freedom isn’t being able to do whatever you want. Freedom is taking responsibility,” Mrs Merkel said.
The chancellor defended the strict measures as being “appropriate, necessary and proportionate”.
“If instead we, dear colleagues, waited until the intensive care units were full, then it would be too late.”
Bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues will be closed for a month from Monday, while travel and meeting in groups is set to be heavily restricted.
AfD parliamentary group leader Alexander Gauland criticised the lack of parliamentary involvement in deciding upon the measures, equating Mrs Merkel’s leadership with “a coronavirus dictatorship”.
“A coronavirus dictatorship on revocation is incompatible with our free and democratic basic order,” Mr Gauland said.
Mrs Gauland said Germany’s hard-won freedoms were too valuable “to be checked into the cloakroom of (Merkel’s) emergency cabinet”.