Germany to mourn 80,000 pandemic victims at memorial
Germany will hold a national memorial service on Sunday for its 80,000 victims of the coronavirus pandemic, sharing the pain of grieving families and those who died alone because of Covid curbs.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will join an ecumenical service in the morning at Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a memorial against war and destruction.
They will later attend a ceremony at the capital's Konzerthaus, where the president will make a speech.
With pandemic curbs still in force restricting the number of people who can attend, the ceremonies will be broadcast live on public television.
"As president I believe it is very important for us to stop to say goodbye in dignity to those who died during the pandemic -- including those who did not fall victim to the virus but who also died in loneliness," said Steinmeier as he announced the national service.
Besides suffering the pain of losing a loved one, restrictions in place to curb infections mean that relatives are often unable to even hold their family members' hands as they lay dying.
Others have been left grieving on their own, as funerals or memorials are curtailed by pandemic curbs.
In a dialogue with the president earlier this year, relatives of coronavirus victims voiced their loneliness.
Michaela Mengel broke down in tears as she recalled how she was only able to watch on her phone as her daughter died in hospital from the coronavirus.
"Last time I saw her alive was on Christmas Eve when I had to leave the hospital. She had oxygen piped into her nose, she looked at me with her big eyes," Mengel told the president.
"Since she could not talk I told her, bye my dear, I love you, mama will be back."
Steinmeier stressed that it was important to look beyond the daily victim counts.
"Behind every number, there's a human fate," he said.
Regional leaders urged citizens to join in the remembrance including by lighting candles by their windows from Friday to Sunday.
"We want to be aware of what we lost, but we also want to find hope and strength together," the premiers of Germany's 16 states said in a statement.
Sunday's ceremony comes as health authorities warn that many more will succumb to the virus, as Germany struggles to put down a vicious third wave gripping the country.
Europe's biggest economy had come out of the first wave relatively unscathed but has struggled to take decisive action to end the current one fuelled mainly by the more contagious British variant.
Merkel's government is seeking greater powers to impose tougher measures such as night-time curfews, in a bid to circumvent Germany's powerful regional authorities, some of whom have resisted implementing tough restrictions.
But the amendment which would impose so-called "emergency brakes" still has to be approved by parliament, where opposition parties like the pro-business FDP have vowed to vote against it.
Merkel urged swift and decisive action.
"The virus doesn't forgive half-hearted measures, they only make it all worse," she told the Bundestag lower house on Friday at the start of a debate on the amended law.
"The virus doesn't let you negotiate with it -- it only understands one language, the language of resolve."