Most people will get the coronavirus, aim is to slow its spread - Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel.
German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Image: John MacDougall / AFP

Up to 70% of the population is likely to be infected with the coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that since there was currently no cure the focus had to be on slowing its spread.

"When the virus is out there, the population has no immunity and no therapy exists, then 60 to 70% of the population will be infected," she told a news conference in Berlin.

"The process has to be focused on not overburdening the health system by slowing the virus's spread ... It's about winning time."

Merkel spoke after mass-selling daily Bild lambasted her for her handling of what it called 'the corona chaos': "No appearances, no speech, no leadership in the crisis," it wrote.

Health Minister Jens Spahn has led the response, and said earlier that sealing Germany's borders to prevent the virus spreading would not work, rejecting calls to follow neighbour Austria in denying entry to visitors from Italy.

Germany has reported 1,296 cases of the virus, and two deaths, the Robert Koch Institute said late on Tuesday.

The crisis has thrown into the spotlight Germany's federal system of government, in which power is devolved to the 16 states and regional authorities to decide whether to take up Spahn's advice to cancel events with over 1,000 participants.

Spahn, in a Wednesday morning interview with broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, said it was "astonishing" that no decision had been take to call off a football match between Union Berlin and Bayern Munich scheduled in Berlin on Saturday.

The Berlin local authority concerned later said the match would take place behind closed doors - a decision Spahn then welcomed.

"The corona crisis shows that, without clear guidance, federalism in the fight against epidemics is reaching its limits," Bild wrote.

Merkel said federalism did not mean anyone could evade responsibility, and that she would meet state premiers on Thursday to coordinate Germany's coronavirus policy response.

Germany's federal system was agreed by the Allies after World War Two and enshrined in its constitution to avoid a repeat of the centralist control of power wielded by the Nazis.

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