Chancellor Angela Merkel ditched a plan agreed on Tuesday for an extended Easter holiday to try to break a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, apologising to lockdown-weary Germans after the hastily-conceived plan triggered a backlash.
At talks that ran into the early hours of Tuesday, Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states had agreed to call on citizens to stay at home for five days over the Easter holidays, declaring April 1 and April 3 as extra "rest days".
The measure would have meant all stores, including essential ones, closing for an extra day.
"The idea of an Easter shutdown was drafted with the best of intentions. We urgently need to stop and reverse the third wave of the pandemic," she said.
But it was not possible to implement the hastily agreed measures so quickly, Merkel said, and apologised for added uncertainty that it had raised for Germans.
"This mistake is mine alone," she said.
Her comments came against a backdrop of growing public frustration with the conservative-led government over the slow rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and extended lockdown measures.
"No plan, no clue, no courage," ran a headline in the online edition of the mass-selling Bild daily above a picture of Merkel and two state leaders.
'Crisis of confidance'
Dietmar Bartsch, head of the opposition left-wing Linke, called for a vote of no-confidence in Merkel, telling newspapers of the Funke media group: "We now have a veritable crisis of confidence in the political leadership of the country."
A poll released on Wednesday showed support for Merkel's conservatives slumping to its lowest in over a year ahead of a national election in September. Merkel, who has led Germany since 2005, will stand down before the vote.
At the talks earlier this week, Merkel had pushed for a reversal of plans for a gradual re-opening of the economy agreed earlier this month following a sharp rise in the infection rate.
But state premiers pushed back, only agreeing to call on citizens to stay at home over the Easter holidays.
The move drew criticism from all sides, with businesses lamenting the extended lockdown and medical experts saying the new measures were not tough enough to prevent the exponential spread of more infectious variants of the virus.
The HDE association of retailers welcomed Merkel's reversal on Wednesday, noting that closing stores for an extra day ahead of Easter would have led to logistical problems and prompted shoppers to rush to stock up earlier.
"With today's decision, a bit of reason is returning to coronavirus policy," said HDE president Stefan Genth.
The CDU suffered historic defeats in two state elections this month, hit by public frustration over the slow vaccine rollout and the extended lockdown measures, as well as a scandal over the procurement of face masks.
The conservative bloc has yet to settle on a chancellor candidate, and is already missing the "Merkel bonus" she has brought them with four consecutive national election victories.
Germany, with a total population of 83 million, reported another 15,813 infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,690,523, while the death toll rose by 248 to 75,212.
The number of cases per 100,000 in the last seven days, which the government has used as a key metric to decide on lockdown steps, was stable at 108.