German leader Angela Merkel enters self-quarantine as death toll passes 5,000 in Italy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will remain at a home quarantine after having a contact with a doctor infected with coronavirus. Photo: EPA-EFE. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BERLIN, Mar 23, 2020, SCMP. German leader Angela Merkel has to be put under self-quarantine as a precaution for Covid-19, while Italy’s death rate has reached an all-time high of 9.3 per cent. Both countries have further tightened restrictions on social life, South China Morning Post reported.

Europe continues to struggle with how to prevent a collapse of the health care system, of which Italy has been on the verge. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stopped short of a lockdown but hinted that interventions could come “at the moment they can have the maximum effect”.

Germans were thrown in a state of shock as their leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, had to be put under self-quarantine because she had been in touch with a doctor tested positive to the coronavirus.

“Even from domestic quarantine, the chancellor will continue her official business”, her spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

The news came soon after Merkel announced drastic measures for the whole of Germany, including a ban of any meetings with more than two people. The decision has been endorsed by the leaders of all 16 states across Germany, the European Union’s biggest economy.

All restaurants, cafes and service providers like hairdressers will have to close if they cannot keep a 2-meter distance between people. In public, people who do not live together must maintain a minimum distance of 1.5 meters between each other.

“No one wished for these restrictions,” Merkel said, stressing that they are not purely recommendations. “I am convinced they will carry us through these difficult times.”

Sunday is a grim day for Italy, where another 651 people died in the last 24 hours, pushing the total to 5,476. Although the latest figure is down from the record 793 new cases reported a day earlier, the overall mortality rate was pushed up from 9 per cent to 9.3 per cent, far exceeding the worldwide average of 4 per cent.

More than one in three death cases in the global pandemic came from Italy, the country with the highest number of fatalities. China, which reported 46 new cases on Sunday, all but one imported from overseas, remained the country with the most cases.

But in a positive development, Italy saw the rate of daily new infections in Italy down to 10 per cent, the lowest level in nearly two weeks, with 651 new cases reported.

Still, stricter measures have been introduced across Italy as the country remained the epicentre in the world.

Under the new rules announced late on Saturday, sport and physical activity outside, even individually, is banned in Lombardy, Italy’s worst-hit area where Milan is capital. Non-essential businesses, including factories, are also suspended.

“We will slow down the country’s productive engine, but we will not stop it,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Saturday.

All open-air weekly markets have been suspended in Italy – whereas in France, scores of such markets were still in business on Sunday.

In Spain, which is the second worst-hit country in Europe, the government announced a 15-day extension of the state of emergency as the number of deaths has risen to 1,720, with 394 new cases recorded on Sunday.

Spanish health authorities sounded a note of cautious optimism.

“We are approaching the period in which perhaps, if we are lucky, we will turn the curve, stabilise and it will start to go down,” said Fernando Simon, director of the Spanish Coordinating Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies.

“The models indicate that we are not very far away, but relaxing the measures prematurely would mean starting again and we have to be very careful,” Simon added.

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