March 16, 2020 / 5:27 PM / 13 days ago

Merkel: Drastic closures needed to counter coronavirus

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday announced unprecedented restrictions on social contact in an attempt to slow the progress of the coronavirus epidemic, but said the government would attempt to minimize the economic impact.

She told a news conference most non-grocery stores would close and restaurants would have to run restricted opening hours and guarantee a minimum distance between tables. Hospital visits would be limited to one a day, with additional restrictions to reduce the risk of infections spreading.

“The better everyone sticks to these rules, the faster we’ll get through this phase,” she told a news conference. “And I think we all want to get through this as quickly as possible.”

Cultural and entertainment establishments would also close, and holiday travel, whether at home and abroad, would cease for the duration of the emergency measures.

The G7 group of large industrial economies had agreed to coordinate to minimize the impact of the virus, she added.

Asked if the coronavirus crisis would result in rescue programs for banks, companies and other European Union member states, Merkel said that Berlin was willing to help, but that it was still too early to talk about concrete steps.

Merkel pointed to measures announced by Finance Minister Minister Olaf Scholz and Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Friday, adding: “This is a shield to protect small (family-owned) Mittelstand companies and all other companies.”

The support package would provide liquidity aid through the state-owned KfW bank, but it would certainly at a later stage also include funds for hardship cases, Merkel said.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Thomas Escritt

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