Speaking to Parliament a day after she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on far-reaching restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, Mrs Merkel said the country faces “a dramatic situation at the beginning of the cold season”.
Germany’s disease control agency said local authorities reported 16,774 new positive tests for Covid-19 in the past day, pushing the country’s total close to the half million mark.
The Robert Koch Institute also recorded 89 additional deaths, bringing its confirmed pandemic death toll to 10,272.
“The winter will be difficult, four long, difficult months. But it will end,” Mrs Merkel told lawmakers. “We have already seen over the past eight months how we can learn and help each other.”
Under the restrictions going into effect on Monday, German restaurants, bars, sports and cultural venues will be shut for four weeks, along with beauty parlours and brothels.
Gatherings are limited to 10 people from a maximum of two households and all non-essential journeys will be discouraged.
Schools, kindergartens, stores and places of worship will remain open — albeit with safety precautions — prompting some to call the measures a “lockdown light” compared to the more severe shutdown Germany saw in March and April.
Mrs Merkel said authorities had no choice but to drastically reduce social contacts as three-quarters of infections in Germany now are no longer traceable.
“If we wait until the ICUs are full, then it will be too late,” she said.
Opposition leader Alexander Gauland of the far-right Alternative for Germany party responded by accusing Mrs Merkel’s government of “wartime propaganda” and likened the pandemic to traffic, arguing that society accepts a certain number of car deaths each year but does not ban driving.
Germany’s finance and economy ministers announced a new 10 billion euro fund for businesses affected by the additional measures.
Europe’s biggest economy has been able to mobilise massive financial aid to dampen the economic blow of the pandemic.
Still, there has been anger over the new measures, particularly from restaurant owners who had set up heated outdoor seating areas and made other preparations to follow health regulations only to be told they are not allowed to serve customers for a month.