CNN  — 

Angela Merkel has been in the top job for nearly 16 years, but the biggest challenge of her career might still lie ahead.

The German Chancellor is racing against the clock to defeat the coronavirus before stepping down in September. She has a lot going against her.

Germany is struggling to contain the latest wave of the pandemic. The surge in infections is driven by the new, more contagious variant of the virus that was first identified in the United Kingdom, and which became dominant in Germany in early March. The influential German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine has warned that the majority of the country’s intensive care units are running at or close to full capacity. On Monday, the number of Germans lost to the virus surpassed 80,000.

And so while the UK pushes ahead with its reopening plan and the US looks forward to a summer of freedom, Germany is facing yet another hard lockdown – and the Germans are asking how it all went so wrong.

Kai Arzheimer, a political science professor at the University of Mainz, said the country has become a victim of its own success. “Germany’s initial response was decisive, successful, and informed by science,” he told CNN.

The country – and Merkel in particular – was praised for the way it handled the first wave of the pandemic. As the virus steamrolled through Europe, Germany kept the epidemic under control. Its hospitals were even able to take in Covid-19 patients from neighboring France.

“This early success led to a certain complacency,” Arzheimer said. “Politicians were very reluctant to re-introduce lockdown measures.”