Yesterday evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel made an unprecedented television address to the German people. Clips were shown with English subtitles but I couldn’t find a full English translation this morning – so I did one myself below. I think its value goes beyond Germany in the current international crisis, and it shows a kind of leadership that may be lacking elsewhere. Any emphasis is mine.
Dear fellow citizens,
Coronavirus is currently changing our life dramatically. Our concept of normality, of public life, of social interaction – all of that is being put to the test as never before.
Millions of you can’t go to work, your children can’t go to school or day-care, theatres and cinemas and shops are closed, and – perhaps the most difficult – we are all missing the interactions we normally take for granted. It’s natural in such a situation for each of us to be full of questions and concerns about what happens next.
I’m taking this unusual step of turning to you today because I want to tell you what’s guiding me, as Chancellor, and all my colleagues in the government in this situation. That’s part of being an open democracy: that we make and explain political decisions also in a transparent way. That we give reasons for and communicate our actions as well as possible, so that they can be understood.
I firmly believe that we will achieve this task if all citizens really see it as THEIR task.
So let me say to you: this is serious. Take it seriously yourselves. Since German unification – no, since WW2 – there has been no greater challenge to our country, in which we are so reliant on acting in common solidarity.
I’d like to explain to you where we currently are in this epidemic, what the government and all levels of the state are doing to protect everyone, and to limit economic, social and cultural damage. But I also want you to understand why we need you to play your part, and what every single person can contribute.
On the epidemic itself – and everything I’m saying to you comes from the government’s constant discussions with the Robert Koch Institute and other scientists and virologists: intensive research is going on on worldwide, but so far there is neither a therapy nor a vaccine against Coronavirus.
As long as that’s the case, there’s only one objective, and that is guiding principle of all our actions: to slow down the spread of the virus, to extend it over months and thereby gain time. Time for research to develop medication and a vaccine. But above all, time to enable all those who become sick to be looked after in the best possible way.
Germany has an excellent health system, possibly one if the best in the world. That can give us reassurance. But our hospitals too would completely overloaded if too many patients who are severely impacted by Coronavirus are admitted in too short a time. These aren’t just abstract statistical numbers: they are a father, a grandfather, a mother, a grandmother, a partner, they are human beings. And we are a community, in which every life and every human being counts.
I want first and foremost to turn to all those who work as doctors, in nursing care or any other function in our hospitals, and indeed anywhere in healthcare. They are on the front line for us in this battle. They are the first to see the sick, and how severe many cases of corona infection are. And every day they go to work again and are there for people. What they are achieving is enormous, and I thank them with all my heart.
So: the challenge is to slow down the virus on its path through Germany. And to do that we must – and this is of existential importance – focus on one thing: to shut down public life. Of course in a sensible way and with judgement, as the state must continue to function, supplies will of course continue to be assured, and we want to preserve as much economic activity as possible.
But everything that could endanger people, everything that could cause damage to an individual, or to the community, we must now reduce.
We must limit the risk that one person can infect another, to the greatest extent possible.
I know how dramatic the current restrictions already are: no events, no trade fairs, no concerts, and above all no more school, no university, no kindergarten, no playing in playgrounds. I know how hard these closures agreed by federal and regional governments encroach on our life and also on the way we see ourselves as a democracy. They are restrictions such as the Federal Republic has never seen.
Let me assure you: for someone like me, for whom freedom of travel and movement is a hard-won right, such restrictions can only be justified in an absolute emergency. In a democracy they should never be imposed lightly, and they should always be temporary – but at present they are unavoidable in order to save lives.
For that reason, increased border controls and entry restrictions have been imposed since the beginning of this week with some our most important neighbouring countries.
For business – large enterprises as well as small businesses – for shops, restaurants, the self-employed, it’s already very difficult. The coming weeks will be even more difficult. I assure you: the federal government is doing everything it can to mitigate the economic impacts – and above all to preserve jobs.
We can and will put in place everything that’s needed to help our employers and employees through this ordeal.
And everyone can be confident that the food supply is secure at all times, and if you find one day that shelves have been emptied, they will be refilled. To everyone who is shopping in supermarkets I’d like to say: holding some reserve supplies is sensible, that’s always been the case. But with moderation; hoarding, as though there are never going to be any more supplies, is senseless and, in the end, completely lacking in solidarity.
And let me here express thanks to those who are thanked too rarely. Those who are sitting at supermarket checkouts, or filling shelves, are doing one of the most difficult jobs that there is at the present time. Thank you for being there for your fellow citizens and literally keeping the shop running.
Now to what is for me the most urgent today: all measures taken by the state would be pointless if we didn’t deploy the most effective measure to prevent the virus spreading too fast. And that is us ourselves. Just as every one of us, without distinction, can be hit by the virus, so each and every one of us can help. Above all, by taking seriously what we are up against. Not to give way to panic, but also not to think for a moment that it’s not down to you. No-one is off the hook. Everyone matters, it needs all of our efforts.
This is what an epidemic shows us. We aren’t condemned to passively accept the spread of the virus. We have one means against it: we must, out of consideration, keep our distance from each other. The advice of virologists is unambiguous: no more shaking hands, wash our hands thoroughly and often, stand at least 1.5 metres away from each other, and it’s best to have hardly any contact with elderly people, because they are in particular danger.
I know how difficult it is to do what is demanded of us. We would like, especially at this time of need, to be near to each other. We understand care and attention in terms of physical closeness or contact. But unfortunately, in this moment precisely the opposite is true. And we must all understand this: at present, distance is the only expression of care.
The well-intentioned visit, the journey that wasn’t necessary, all that can mean contagion and should really no longer happen. There is a reason why experts say: grandparents and grandchildren should not get together at present.
Those who avoid unnecessary contacts help all those who have to look after more and more cases in hospital every day. In that way we will save lives. It will be difficult for many, and it will also be important to ensure that no-one is left alone, and to care for those who need comfort and assurance. As families, and as a society, we will need to find new ways of standing by each other.
There are already many creative ways to resist the virus and its social consequences. There are already grandchildren who are recording a podcast for their grandparents so they won’t be lonely. We must all find ways of showing affection and friendship: Skype, telephone calls, emails and perhaps even writing letters again. After all, the post is still being delivered. There are wonderful examples of neighbourly help for older people who can’t go shopping themselves. I am sure there will be much more of that and we will show, as a society, that we don’t leave one another other alone.
I appeal to you: keep to the rules that will apply now for the coming period. As a government we will always keep testing what can be adjusted, but also: what more might possibly be needed.
It’s a dynamic situation, and we will remain ready to learn, in order to rethink at any time and to respond with other tools. We will also then explain what we’re doing.
So I ask you: don’t believe rumours, but only official statements, which we will always get translated into many languages.
We are a democracy. We don’t live by force but by shared knowledge and cooperation. This is a historic task and it can only be managed together.
That we can overcome this crisis – of that I’m absolutely sure. But how high will the sacrifices be? How many loved ones will we lose? To a great extent, we have that in our own hands. We can now, with determination, all respond together, in cooperation. We can accept the current restrictions and stand by each other.
This situation is serious and it is open-ended.
That means: it will not only depend on how disciplined everyone is in following and interpreting the rules – though that is also very important.
We must show that, even if we have never before experienced anything like this, we are acting with our hearts and our minds, and so save lives. It comes down to every one of us without exception, and therefore to all of us.
Take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Thank you.