German leader calls coronavirus biggest challenge since WWII

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany has not faced a challenge like the new coronavirus outbreak since World War II

“Let me tell you: This is serious. Take it seriously ,too,” Merkel said in a speech aired by several public and private TV stations.

Germany had 11,973 confirmed virus cases as of Wednesday evening, the fifth-highest number in the world, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Among all the people with the virus in the country, 28 have died, the university's tally said.

Those patients are not just abstract statistics but, “a father or a grandfather, a mother or a grandmother, a partner. They are human beings,” the chancellor said. “And we are a community in which every life, every human being, counts.”

While updating worldwide infections to more than 214,000 since the new virus emerged, Johns Hopkins University said more than 82,000 people have recovered.

Earlier Wednesday, the German government said it had arranged in coordination with state officials to increase hospital capacities, especially for patients requiring intensive care. The government also directed hospitals to check if discarded beds and medical devices could be put back into service, saying experts were predicting the number of cases to rise quickly in coming weeks.

In her speech, Merkel called on everyone in the country of 83 million to stay home and to practice social distancing when they must go out despite the natural instinct to want to come together during times of worry.

“I appeal to you: Please obey the rules, which will now be valid for the coming times,” Merkel said. “We as a government will constantly check what needs to be corrected but also, what perhaps still needs to be done.”

Germany's Interior Ministry said Wednesday night that restrictions on entering the country were being immediately expanded to include checks of passengers flying in from Italy, Austria, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland.

The German government previously closed schools, universities, clubs and movie theaters but has refrained from strictly limiting the population's movements and locking down the entire country like Italy, Spain and France have in response to the worldwide pandemic.

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