BERLIN (Reuters) – It is too early for Germany to lift restrictions on people’s movement despite signs that the coronavirus may be spreading at a slightly slower pace, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, signalling the lockdown might stretch beyond Easter.

Speaking in her signature composed and calm manner, Merkel appealed to the public to stick to social distancing and hygiene rules and said the pandemic was a “Herculean task” and she had taken it on.

“The government and I personally are thinking about how we can simultaneously achieve two things: securing health protection for all, and also starting a process so that public life returns step by step.”

Merkel’s conservatives have seen support surge in opinion polls over their handling of the outbreak. The conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have approved an unprecedented rescue package for the economy.

They have also set a goal of doubling the number of intensive care beds in hospitals and injecting more money into the healthcare system, which has seen German public satisfaction with the coalition surge to a record high.

“It is true that the latest number (of new cases) from the Robert Koch Institute (for infectious diseases), which remain high, give reason for a very cautious hope,” Merkel said. “The rise in confirmed new cases is going a bit slower than a few days ago.

“But it is definitively way too early to identify a trend and therefore it is also too early to ease some of the strict rules we have set for ourselves.”

Germany’s 16 states, which have almost 80,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths, have agreed with the government to maintain curbs on movement until April 19.

The federal government and the states will decide on April 14 whether to ease the restrictions or extend them.

Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Nick Macfie

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