In an interview with broadcaster ARD on Sunday night, Merkel had criticized several states for failing to impose “emergency braking” rules that require renewed restrictions for regions with high incidence rates.
He also directly criticized the head of his CDU party, Armin Laschet, who is also prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, for “choosing an implementation that has too much room for maneuver.”
But Laschet responded to the criticism on Monday, saying it “doesn’t help us if the federal government and the states are holding each other accountable.”
He insisted that the 16 state prime ministers are “taking this very seriously.” “Everyone wants the number of infections to go down and everyone has taken the appropriate measures for their condition, which are very different,” he said.
He also defended Tobias Hans, Saarland’s state prime minister, who had been widely criticized for his plans to end a shutdown on April 6.
In a tense meeting last week, Merkel and regional leaders agreed to stick to national rules that include strict closures and curfews in areas with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people for seven days.
But under Germany’s federal system, each state can ultimately decide its own rules and some have failed to impose curfews and have gone ahead with reopening measures, despite fierce criticism.
The small southwestern state of Saarland has said it plans to end its closure entirely and open leisure, sports and entertainment facilities after Easter to those who can test negative.
When asked if Laschet’s actions in North Rhine-Westphalia went against the agreement, Merkel said: “There are several states that have taken a very broad interpretation, and that does not fill me with joy.”
The rapid spread of the British variant of the coronavirus B.1.1.7 has caused an exponential growth of new cases in Germany in recent weeks, just as the country was taking the first steps towards reopening.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency reported 9,872 new cases in 24 hours on Monday and a national incidence rate of 134.4 per 100,000 people over the past seven days.
Rising infection rates and the slow launch of the vaccine have led to a slump in support for Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance just six months before the general election.
A poll for the daily Bild on Sunday placed the Conservatives at just 25 percent, their lowest level in a year and well below the all-time low of 32.9 percent they obtained in the 2017 election.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism