Germany had confirmed some 1,300 infections as of Wednesday, with two deaths. The government has recommended the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people, among other measures.
"When the virus is out there, the population has no immunity and no treatment 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.
At the EU level, Merkel stressed the importance of "a coordinated approach" to counter the pandemic, including toward easing the economic impact it will have. She promised to do what was needed to counter the effects of the coronavirus, and that would happen in agreement with European partners.
"The message should be: We will do what is necessary as a country and, that is, also together with Europe," she said. She also declined to commit to providing concrete material aid to Italy's overburdened health care system, saying that she would discuss what could be done with Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in the coming days.
"We're not indifferent when we see something like this happening in Italy," she said in response to a question from an Italian reporter. "But it's not as if our own health care system is unburdened currently. We're all in a stressful situation but we're bound by friendship, and we will act as friends do."
In response to Merkel’s comments on the virus infecting most people, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said her statements could cause panic. "I don't want to comment on the situation in Germany, although I believe that such statements rather cause panic. In any case, we have adopted strong measures for such worst-case scenarios to be out of the question," CTK quoted Babis as saying.