German Chancellor Angela Merkel suddenly scrapped plans on Wednesday for a stricter national lockdown over Easter, saying the decision – reached after hours of negotiations with state leaders – was a “mistake.”
“The idea of an Easter shutdown was conceived with the best of intentions, because we absolutely have to slow down and reverse the third wave of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the idea of the so-called ‘Easter rest’ was a mistake,” she told journalists.
“I know that this entire process will trigger additional uncertainty. I deeply regret this and I ask all citizens for their forgiveness,” she said.
Merkel explained that Monday’s decision to tighten an existing lockdown over the Easter period would have been too difficult to enforce from a legal and a logistical standpoint.
The plan had included shutting down or vastly limiting business activities on April 1 and 3 – a Thursday and a Saturday.
“Far too many questions, from the continued payment of wages due to the lost working hours, to the situation in the shops and factories, have shown that the plan cannot be implemented, at least not in such a short time,” Merkel said.
It was initially unclear whether was an alternative plan in place to contain a severe third wave of infections, but Merkel later clarified that the default plan was the full implementation of a so-called “emergency brake” to suspend all planning reopenings.
Merkel and her grand coalition – made up of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) – have come under severe criticism over what was perceived as a bungled coronavirus containment strategy.
The country’s slow vaccine rollout has added fuel to the debate.
Several lawmakers and some of the country’s 16 state premiers praised Merkel for taking responsibility for the mistake.
“In the end it is better to clear it up now if it is not legally viable,” Markus Soeder, the powerful premier of the southern state of Bavaria, was cited as saying.
Criticism of the agreement earlier this week had centred on the fact that despite marathon talks, key elements of the plan remained unclear.
Industry and business leaders said they had been left in the dark as to what the Easter closures meant in practice.