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Merkel — the Coronavirus pandemic is “the biggest challenge since World War Two”

Angela Merkel has called the pandemic “the biggest challenge since World War Two” as she appealed to German citizens to help protect each other from the virus by restricting their social interactions.

In her first televised address to the nation in 14 years as chancellor – outside her annual New Year’s address – Merkel warned that all state-run attempts to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus would prove futile unless individuals changed their personal behaviour.

“This is serious, so take it seriously,” the German chancellor said in pre-recorded remarks that will go out on German television just before tonight’s main news programmes.

“Since German reunification, no, since the Second World War there has been no challenge to our country that will require us to act in mutual solidarity.“

Merkel said her government was focused on the main goal of “slowing down the spread of the virus, to stretch it out over months and thus win time”, which could be used to research a vaccine and avoid overwhelming the German health service.

Earlier in the day, state and federal leaders announced their intention to double the country’s number of intensive respiratory care beds. Germany currently has around 25,000 intensive care beds with respiratory capacity.

Germany is expanding entry restrictions to include flights from Italy, Spain, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland, the interior ministry has said.

The new entry restrictions also apply to sea transport from Denmark, according to an interior ministry spokesman.