Once Europe’s poster child in the battle against Covid-19, Germany has turned into a problem child with the pandemic threatening to spin out of control – even after two months of a strict national lockdown that has frayed nerves, eroded faith in the government and darkened the country’s mood. German leaders had to scramble on Monday to defend a controversial decision to shut its borders to the Czech Republic and parts of Austria to foreign travellers, including commuting workers, in a desperate bid to slow the spread of a highly infections coronavirus mutation from the United Kingdom. The introduction of border controls against two of Germany’s European Union partners has stranded thousands of travellers and freight, causing factory disruptions. The step came unexpectedly just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a third extension of the increasingly loathed shutdown of shops, restaurants, theatres, gyms, museums, nightlife and most public life that is putting businesses in jeopardy. “There’s not a day that goes by in which I don’t think about what these constraints mean for people across Germany,” Merkel said after extending shutdown measures introduced on November 2 - and broadened in December - until at least March 7. In an unusually candid admission to parliament on Thursday, she acknowledged Germany made mistakes in not shutting down sooner and more comprehensively. She was referring to when the second wave arrived in September after Germans enjoyed most of the spring and summer with hardly any restrictions or precautions – precious time wasted that is now hurting Europe’s leading economy. “We were too hesitant,” Merkel said. “Then we weren’t careful enough and not fast enough.” She gave an even more harrowing private assessment of the situation in a conference call to party allies in late January: Uns ist das Ding entglitten (“We’ve lost control of this thing”), she said, according to Bild newspaper, after the number of coronavirus deaths soared from just two per day in mid-September to more than 1,100 per day in early January. Germany recommends AstraZeneca’s vaccine only for people under 65 The number of Germans who have died because of Covid-19 has nearly tripled in just the last eight weeks – from a cumulative 23,400 in mid-December to 65,107 as of Monday. That ominous trend has shaken Germany’s confidence as well as its reputation as a role model in the coronavirus fight. Analysts said the atmosphere in Germany has become so surly because the government has compounded a difficult situation by making blunders of its own – especially its painfully slow roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations, including one that was developed by a German company BioNtech. Only about 3 per cent of the population was vaccinated in the first two months of the roll-out – far less than Israel (42 per cent), the United States (12 per cent), the UK (22 per cent) and numerous other countries. Adding to the public’s gloom is a palpable anger directed at the government for failing to learn the lessons from the first wave and better shield the elderly, for failing to upgrade schools for the new digital era, and for breaking promises for speedy financial aid to struggling businesses. “The mood in Germany has turned really ugly and the government has only itself to blame,” said Thomas Jaeger, a political scientist at Cologne University. “Normally people rally around their leaders in times of crisis. That happened in Germany at the start of the pandemic when support for the government was high. But because of their disastrous handling of it in recent months, that support is down and falling fast.” Young pilot traces giant syringe in sky as Germany rolls out Covid-19 vaccine In the spring when Covid-19 was wreaking havoc across swathes of Europe, Germany had been seen as leader in the fight against the virus with far lower infection and death rates than elsewhere. Its month-long shutdown in March and April seemed to be more effective than lockdowns in Spain, France, Italy and Britain - perhaps due to an obedient public largely supportive of the government’s measures. Yet Germany, which enjoys a well-funded public health care system and network of some 400 regional Gesundheitsamt health offices with extensive powers to battle the virus, grew complacent after the spring, and dire warnings from Merkel about the next wave from September went unheeded. “There was a lot of dumb luck,” said Jaeger. “The government got lucky at first. They didn’t take it seriously enough after that.” Merkel, the 66-year-old trained scientist who is set to leave office at the next election on September 26 after 16 years in power, tried to maintain a hard line on the lockdowns but has been losing some of the battles with the country’s 16 governors, an eclectic yet powerful collection of regional political barons who regularly thwart or water down her proposals. Coronavirus: record 952 dead in 24 hours as Germany enters lockdown The governors last week again brushed aside Merkel’s warnings against easing the lockdown for schools and hair salons in the coming weeks – another indication of her waning powers. “We’ve had a difficult period behind us and we’re still in the middle of it,” Merkel said in a German TV interview on Friday. The mood in the country, already somewhat ornery due to problems caused by blizzard conditions last week and lingering Arctic temperatures, also grew even more miserable when Merkel moved the goalposts by suddenly setting a new target before the lockdown can be lifted. Before last week the government said shops, restaurants, theatres, clubs, gyms and businesses could reopen once the number of new infections per 100,000 people in a given seven-day period fell to 50 – far below the 218 at the peak in December and less than 59 on Monday. But then Merkel lowered that target to 35 before any easing of the lockdown would be permitted due to fears of more infectious variants. “That was a nightmare because they changed the goal without really explaining why,” said Nikola Gross, a Berlin doctor who registers the growing frustration from her patients. “The mood really took a turn for the worse. These decisions feel so random and the lockdown has dragged on so long. People are just fed up.” The frustrations were also summarised by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper columnist Patrick Bernau: “Who would have thought Germany would be in such precarious condition a year after the outbreak of the pandemic? People are sick and tired of lockdowns. Political leaders are losing control. The consequences are nasty”.