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Merkel: Populists who say coronavirus is harmless are dangerous

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Under pressure after imposing new lockdown measures, German leader brands doubters as dangerous

BERLIN: Populists who argue the coronavirus is harmless are dangerous and irresponsible, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday, defending a circuit break lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

"We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception," Dr Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of Parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were "necessary and proportionate".

With an election less than a year away, she is keen to keep Germans on board, despite the risk of a new hit to Europe's biggest economy.

She said populists who question the seriousness of the crisis were putting lives at risk.

"Lies and disinformation, conspiracy theories and hatred damage not only the democratic debate but also the fight against the virus," she told Parliament in a speech during which she was heckled by far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) lawmakers.

Her statement comes as parts of Europe imposed curbs to control the spread of the virus.

France began a new month-long national lockdown as Germany imposed drastic new measures.

"All of us in Europe are surprised by the spread of the virus," French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address on Wednesday night, where he stressed that the second lockdown would be less severe than the first.

Bars and restaurants are to be closed until at least the start of December, travel between regions will be limited, and citizens will need an authorisation form to leave their homes, he said. But creches, schools, factories and building sites will remain open.

Dr Merkel ordered a new round of shutdowns from Nov 2 until the end of the month, although Germans will not be confined to their homes.

Bars, cafes and restaurants must close, as well as theatres, operas and cinemas. Hotel stays are to be restricted while professional sport, including the Bundesliga football league, is set to be pushed back behind closed doors.

Germany was widely praised for keeping a lid on cases early in the crisis but, like much of Europe, is now in the midst of a second wave.

It tallied a record 16,774 rise in cases yesterday, bringing the total to 481,013. The death toll rose by 89 to 10,272.

Meanwhile, Britain resisted pressure yesterday to impose a second nationwide lockdown.

A new study by Imperial College London underlined the dire situation facing Britain, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, showing cases in England doubling every nine days.

Professor Steven Riley, the author of the study, said the government should decide quickly if it wanted to follow France and Germany.

"And sooner is better than later," the professor of infectious disease dynamics told the BBC.

But Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he did not think it was inevitable that Britain would follow France and Germany in imposing nationwide restrictions. - REUTERS, AFP