German chancellor Angela Merkel gave an impromptu speech on TV to address her nation about Coronavirus. It may not be a big deal in other parts of the world but Merkel is known to stay distant from drama and TV politics, and her decision to face the camera to reach as many people as possible in times of turmoil is both novel and worthy.
In her speech, she emphasised how serious the situation is, and that the only way through is unified action. She didn’t point fingers or called for a curfew; instead, she empathised, and reassured the masses. She promised that government’s help would reach to those in need and that hoarding and panic are unnecessary.
She also thanked medical frontliners and those who are still working in supermarkets and pharmacies for their sacrifices and hardwork. It was heartwarming to see a head of state acknowledge people who rarely make headlines even though they play a pivotal role in holding systems and lives together.
Here’s the transcript of Chancellor Merkel’s speech, one that can teach many other head of states how a true leader of the free world communicates in times of crises and Corona:
Dear fellow citizens,
The corona virus is currently changing life in our country dramatically. Our idea of normalcy, of public life, of social interaction – all of this is being tested like never before.
Millions of you cannot go to work, your children cannot go to school or the daycare, theaters and cinemas and shops are closed, and, perhaps the hardest thing, we all lack the encounters that are otherwise taken for granted. Of course, in such a situation, each of us is full of questions and worries about how to proceed.
I am addressing you in this unusual way today because I want to tell you what guides me as Chancellor and all my colleagues in the Federal Government in this situation. That is part of an open democracy: that we also make political decisions transparent and explain them. That we justify and communicate our actions as well as possible so that it becomes understandable.
I firmly believe that we will have this task if all citizens really understand it as YOUR task.
So let me say: it’s serious. Take it seriously too. Since German unity, no, since the Second World War there has been no longer a challenge to our country where our common solidarity is so important.
I would like to explain to you where we are in the current epidemic, what the federal government and state levels are doing to protect everyone in our community and to limit economic, social and cultural damage. But I would also like to show you why you need it and what each and every one of you can contribute to it.
Regarding the epidemic – and everything I tell you about it comes from the ongoing consultations of the Federal Government with the experts from the Robert Koch Institute and other scientists and virologists: Research is under high pressure worldwide, but there is still no therapy for the corona virus another vaccine.
As long as this is the case, there is only one thing, and that is the guideline of all our actions: to slow down the spread of the virus, to stretch it over the months and thus save time. Time for research to develop a drug and a vaccine. But above all time so that those who get sick can be cared for in the best possible way.
Germany has an excellent health system, perhaps one of the best in the world. That can give us confidence. But our hospitals would also be completely overwhelmed if too many patients were admitted in a very short time who suffer from a severe course of corona infection.
These are not simply abstract numbers in statistics, but that is a father or grandfather, a mother or grandmother, a partner, they are people. And we are a community in which every life and every person counts.
I would first of all like to take this opportunity to address everyone who works as a doctor, in the nursing service or in another function in our hospitals and in general in the healthcare system. You are at the forefront of this fight for us. You will be the first to see the sick and how severe some courses of the infection are. And every day you go to work anew and are there for the people. What you do is tremendous, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
So: It’s about slowing the virus on its way through Germany. And in doing so, we have to rely on one thing: this is existential: to shut down public life as far as possible.
Of course, with reason and judgment, because the state will continue to function, the supply will of course continue to be secured and we want to preserve as much economic activity as possible.
But we have to reduce everything that could endanger people, everything that could harm the individual, but also the community.
We have to limit the risk that one infects the other as much as we can.
I know how dramatic the restrictions are already: no more events, no trade fairs, no concerts and for the time being no more schools, no universities, no kindergarten, no games in a playground.
I know how hard the closings that the federal and state governments have agreed upon affect our lives and our democratic self-image. There are restrictions that have never existed in the Federal Republic.
Let me assure you: for someone like me, for whom freedom of movement and movement were a hard-won right, such restrictions can only be justified in absolute necessity. They should never be taken lightly and only temporarily in a democracy – but they are indispensable at the moment to save lives.
That is why stricter border controls and entry restrictions to some of our most important neighboring countries have been in force since the beginning of the week.
It is already very difficult for business, large companies and small businesses, for shops, restaurants and freelancers. The next few weeks will be even more difficult. I assure you that the Federal Government is doing everything it can to cushion the economic impact – and above all to save jobs.
We can and will use whatever it takes to help our entrepreneurs and workers through this difficult test.
And everyone can rest assured that the food supply is secure at all times, and if shelves are cleared for a day, they will be refilled. I would like to say to everyone who is out and about in the supermarkets: it makes sense to keep stocks, by the way, it has always been. But with moderation; hoarders, as if there will never be anything again, are pointless and ultimately completely unsound.
And let me also express my thanks to people who are rarely thanked for. Those who sit at a supermarket checkout or fill shelves these days are doing one of the hardest jobs currently available. Thank you for being there for your fellow citizens and literally keeping the store going.
Now to what is the most urgent thing for me today: All government measures would be ineffective if we did not use the most effective means of preventing the virus from spreading too quickly: and we are ourselves. Just as indiscriminately, each of us is affected by the virus everyone can help now. First of all, by taking seriously what it is about today.
Don’t panic, but don’t even think for a moment that he or she doesn’t really matter. Nobody is indispensable. All count, it takes all of us effort.
This is what an epidemic shows us: how vulnerable we all are, how dependent on the considerate behavior of others, but also: how we can protect and strengthen one another by acting together.
It depends on everyone. We are not doomed to passively accept the spread of the virus. We have a remedy: we have to keep a distance from each other out of respect. The virologists’ advice is clear: no more handshakes, wash your hands thoroughly and often, at least one and a half meters away from your neighbor and ideally hardly any contact with the very old, because they are particularly at risk.
I know how difficult it is to get what we are asked to do. We want to be close to one another, especially in times of need. We know care as physical closeness or touch. Unfortunately, the opposite is true at the moment. And everyone really has to understand that at the moment only distance is an expression of care.
The well-intention visit, the trip that should not have been, all of this can mean contagion and should really no longer take place. There is a reason why the experts say: grandparents and grandchildren should not come together now.
Those who avoid unnecessary encounters help everyone who has to deal with more cases every day in hospitals. This is how we save lives. It will be difficult for many, and it will also depend on: not leaving anyone alone, taking care of those who need encouragement and confidence. We will find other ways to stand by each other as families and as a society.
There are already many creative forms that defy the virus and its social consequences. There are already grandchildren who are recording a podcast for their grandparents so that they are not lonely.
We all have to find ways to show affection and friendship: Skype, phone calls, emails and maybe writing letters again. The post is delivered. One hears of wonderful examples of neighborhood help for the elderly who cannot go shopping themselves. I am sure there is a lot more that we can do as a community and we will show that we do not leave each other alone.
I appeal to you: abide by the rules that will apply now. As the government, we will always re-examine what can be corrected, but also: what may still be necessary.
This is a dynamic situation and we will remain capable of learning so that we can rethink and react with other instruments at any time. We’ll explain that too.
Therefore I ask you: Do not believe rumors, only the official messages, which we always have translated into many languages.
We are a democracy. We do not live from coercion, but from shared knowledge and participation. This is a historical task and can only be accomplished together.
I am absolutely certain that we will overcome this crisis. But how high will the victims be? How many loved ones will we lose? We largely have it in our own hands. We can now, resolutely, react to each other. We can accept the current restrictions and stand by each other.
This situation is serious and it is open.
That means: It will depend not only, but also on how disciplined everyone follows and implements the rules.
Even if we have never experienced anything like this, we have to show that we act heartily and sensibly and thus save lives. Without exception, it all depends on everyone and therefore on all of us.
Take good care of yourself and your loved ones. Thank you.