BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she expects that two-thirds of Germans — some 58 million people — will be infected with the new coronavirus, but urged people to “not overload” the country’s health system.
“The coronavirus has arrived in Germany,” Merkel said Wednesday at a joint press conference with the health minister and the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the government’s agency for disease monitoring and control.
“We must assume that 60 to 70 percent of the population will become infected,” the chancellor said, noting that the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions were particularly at risk.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Germany had 1,296 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with three deaths, according to the RKI.
Merkel said it was a priority for Germany and other EU countries to contain the spread of the virus.
Germany has been criticized for banning exports of protective equipment, such as gowns, face masks and visors.
But it was crucial, she said, that “we do not overload our healthcare system,” and that “it’s all about buying time,” for instance for hospitals.
Merkel also said that Germany will help Italy “in a way friends help friends” to tackle the outbreak there — Italy has imposed a total lockdown on its population — but she gave no specific details on how.
Germany has been criticized by several EU countries for banning exports of protective equipment, such as gowns, face masks and visors.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn noted this measure was “an export limit,” and companies had to make a request to be allowed to export such equipment. He confirmed his ministry was working on additional measures to guarantee supply. “Of course, we also want to help our European neighbors,” he said. “It is not about cutting ourselves off.”