Mar 18, 2020 - World

Coronavirus is greatest challenge since World War II, Merkel warns

Angela Merkel prepares to address the nation. Photo: Steffen Kugler/Bundesregierung via Getty Images

In a national address with no precedent in her 14 years as chancellor, Angela Merkel said Germany now faces the gravest challenge since World War II.

What she’s saying: “Take it seriously. Since German unification, no, since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action," Merkel said, per DW.

  • Not one for dramatic statements, Merkel’s elevated warnings come with French President Emmanuel Macron declaring his country now “at war” and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson noting that the societal changes underway are unprecedented in peacetime.
  • Merkel had never before made a televised address to the nation beyond her annual New Years' address, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Cases of coronavirus jumped 9% in Germany on Wednesday alone, to 12,000. The country has experienced relatively few deaths, with 28 to date.

  • German health officials warned Wednesday that as many as 10 million people could be infected in the next two to three months if social contact is not significantly reduced.
  • Merkel herself warned last week that up to 70% of Germany’s population — some 60 million people — could eventually be infected.
  • "It's down to each and every one of us. We are not doomed to helplessly watch the spread of the virus. We have a means to fight it: we must practice social distancing out of consideration for one another,” she said in Wednesday’s speech.

What to watch: Germany’s policy response is ramping up, though it is not yet as sweeping as in Italy or France, where people have been ordered to leave their homes only when absolutely necessary. Germany has closed its borders and put travel restrictions on its citizens.

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