Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was heckled by opposition MPs during a speech to parliament on Thursday when she took aim at groups spreading “lies and disinformation” as the country continues to battle coronavirus.
The speech – which took place the morning after Mrs Merkel announced a range of sweeping measures to tackle the spread of the virus – warned that the German people find themselves in a “dramatic situation”.
On Thursday morning, Germany recorded 16,774 new daily coronavirus infections, the highest number of new cases within a 24-hour period since the pandemic began.
In a veiled criticism of the far-right Alternative for Germany – staunch opponents of the country’s lockdown measures – Mrs Merkel made a plea for unity.
“Lies, disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate not only damage democratic debate, but also the fight against the coronavirus,” she said. “Soothing wishful thinking and populist trivialisation is not only unrealistic, it is irresponsible.”
The speech was frequently interrupted by jeers from AfD MPs. Such interjections are rare in the German parliament, with house speaker Wolfgang Schäuble threatening the hecklers with calls to order and criticising their “dangerous” behaviour.
Mrs Merkel called for calm amid “skyrocketing” infection rates, saying: “It is the beginning of the cold season and we find ourselves in a dramatic situation. This affects all of us, without exception. Winter will be difficult – four long, difficult months. But it will end.”
While dismissing those who peddle disinformation, the chancellor was careful to reinforce Germany’s commitment to vigorous democratic debate, saying: “Critical debate does not weaken democracy, it strengthens it.”
Mrs Merkel said she sympathised with the “frustration” many felt at the new rules, but reinforced their necessity to the public.
“Freedom isn’t being able to do whatever you want. Freedom is taking responsibility,” she said, defending the measures as “appropriate, necessary and proportionate”.
“If instead we, dear colleagues, waited until the intensive care units were full, then it would be too late,” she added.
Bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues will be closed for a month from Monday, while travel and meeting in groups is set to be heavily restricted.
The AfD parliamentary group leader, Alexander Gauland, criticised the lack of parliamentary involvement in deciding upon the measures, equating Mrs Merkel’s leadership with “a coronavirus dictatorship”.
“A coronavirus dictatorship on revocation is incompatible with our free and democratic basic order,” he said, adding that Germany’s hard-won freedoms were too valuable “to be checked into the cloakroom of [Merkel’s] emergency cabinet”.