Berlin       -            Germany is facing its biggest challenge “since the Second World War” in the fight against the coronavirus, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday, in what observers called a “final warning” for citizens to heed sweeping confinement measures.

In a dramatic television appeal, Merkel said everyone played a part in slowing down a pandemic that has raced across the globe and triggered unprecedented peace-time lockdowns.

“The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity,” she said.

Although her 15 years in office have been marked by blows like the financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis and Brexit, the veteran leader has never taken to the airwaves to address citizens directly outside of traditional New Year’s greetings. “I truly believe we can succeed in this task, if all citizens truly understand their own tasks,” Merkel said.

German authorities have shut down schools, many businesses and public spaces in recent days in increasingly desperate attempts to stem the spread of the virus.

The country has, however, stopped short of ordering people to stay home, in contrast to tougher restrictions introduced in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

Instead, Germans have continued to go outside to enjoy the spring sunshine and socialise, even holding “corona parties”.

Although Merkel did not announce any tougher measures in her speech, she said that could change at any time.

Broadcaster NTV joined several German newspapers in describing the address as Merkel’s “final warning” to avoid mandatory lockdowns.

The best-selling Bild tabloid called it a “historic” and stirring speech that marked a change in tone for the “usually so sober chancellor”.