Germany remembers nearly 80,000 dead in COVID pandemic

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a candle during a memorial service in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, April 18, 2021 in remembrance of Germany's corona dead. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool)

BERLIN – Germany paid tribute on Sunday to the nearly 80,000 people it has lost to the coronavirus, even as the country argues about how to get a grip on another rise in infections.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier led a memorial event at Berlin’s Konzerthaus concert hall with Chancellor Angela Merkel and a few other top officials. They were joined by five relatives of people who died over the past year in placing a circle of candles in the mostly empty hall.

Steinmeier said that months of focusing on infection rates and other statistics were “understandable, but my impression is that we as a society don't appreciate often enough that ... people stand behind all the figures.”

“Their suffering and their death has often remained invisible in public,” he said.

Germany's confirmed death toll from COVID-19 stood at 79,914 on Sunday, an increase of 67 over the previous day. That is the fifth-highest total in Europe, after the U.K., Italy, Russia and France.

Germany had a comparatively small number of deaths in the pandemic’s first phase, but saw much higher infection levels in the fall and winter. In January, more than 1,000 deaths per day were reported at times in the country of 83 million people.

Infections have increased again over the past two months as a more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain took hold. Germany has reported 3.14 million cases since the pandemic began.

Anita Schedel, whose husband, Hannes, a doctor, died of COVID-19 a year ago, called on Germans to keep sticking to rules meant to contain the virus.