Angela Merkel’s ability to effectively direct Germany’s coronavirus response was thrown into question after the chancellor quarantined herself at home following contact with a doctor who later tested positive for the disease.
The doctor gave Merkel, 65, a precautionary immunization against bacterial pneumonia on Friday and the chancellor decided to self-isolate once she learned of his positive test, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Sunday. Merkel — who suffered a health scare last year with unexplained shaking fits — will be regularly tested in coming days and perform her duties from home, Seibert added.
Shortly before the announcement, Merkel spoke at a news conference following consultations with regional leaders. She detailed new restrictions to try to contain the spread of the virus and was asked how she is dealing personally with the situation.
“I’ve canceled almost all appointments where people would have come into the chancellery or where I would have gone to people,” she said. “So my life has also changed fundamentally and consists mainly of telephone and video conferences.”
Merkel initially allowed her health minister, Jens Spahn, to take the lead in communicating Germany’s strategy to deal with the virus, but has been praised for her leadership since she began to play a more prominent role.
Last week, the trained physicist made the first crisis address on television of her more than 14 years in office, telling the nation to take the virus seriously and winning plaudits for her matter-of-fact approach.
Her enforced absence comes at a delicate time, with the ruling coalition aiming to get a supplementary budget worth 150 billion euros ($160 billion) through parliament this week. Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to chair Monday’s cabinet meeting.
After stepping down as leader of her Christian Democratic Union in late 2018, Merkel had distanced herself from domestic politics, and announced that her fourth term, due to end in fall 2021, would be her last.
She appears to have learned from her mistakes during the refugee crisis in 2015, when she was criticized for not communicating the reasons for her decisions.
She now gives regular updates on the government response to the virus, as after her consultations with German regional leaders Sunday and her video conferences with Group of Seven and EU leaders last week.
(Updates with Merkel quote, background)
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