Germany extends local coronavirus lockdown in hard-hit district

A lockdown put in place in a district hit by a huge coronavirus outbreak at a meat processing plant will be extended by a week.

Germany extends local coronavirus lockdown in hard-hit district
A resident being tested at a centre in Gütersloh. Photo: DPA

Measures to control the spread of Covid-19 were put in place in Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), on Tuesday June 23rd – the first local lockdown since Germany began easing restrictions.

It came after around 2,000 employees at Tönnies meat processing plant become infected with coronavirus. The measures to stall the spread were due to expire on June 30th but are to be extended until July 7th, state premier Armin Laschet said, “as a precaution”.

However, restrictions are to be lifted on June 30th in the neighbouring district of Warendorf, which was also placed under lockdown, That means cinemas, swimming pools, bars and gyms will be allowed to reopen, like other places across Germany.

Similar to the rules that came into force across German states at the height of the epidemic in March, the lockdown resulted in the closures of many businesses and facilities.

Meanwhile, contact restrictions were put in place in a bid to limit contact between people.

READ ALSO: Explained – What you need to know about Germany's new local coronavirus lockdown

No large community spread

According to Laschet, the outbreak has not spread uncontrollably into the general community in Gütersloh. He said the outbreak had mainly affected Tönnies employees.

Many of them are from Romania and Bulgaria and live in shared housing near the plant.

In the district of Warendorf, there has been no spread. About 40,000 tests have been carried out in both districts and Laschet said he had consulted with experts.

In the Gütersloh district, around 112 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants were reported within the last seven days as of Monday. This is well above the critical mark of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

The trend, however, is looking good, said Laschet. The rapid containment measures have made it possible to “limit the infection locally and prevent it from spreading to the population”.

The state premier again urged people not to stigmatise people from the Gütersloh district. There had to be a “signal from Germany” that people from Gütersloh were welcome if they could present a negative coronavirus test, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had spoken out last week against the targeting of people from coronavirus hotspots.

As The Local has reported, several states have banned tourists from Gütersloh following the outbreak.

READ ALSO: Austria lifts travel warning for German state of North Rhine-Westphalia

Still no date for reopening of Tönnies

After the outbreak at Tönnies, some 7,000 staff were ordered into self-quarantine. The factory was closed and there is no date yet for its opening. 

Gütersloh district administrator Sven-Georg Adenauer said could only happen when there was no danger to the population.

The Tönnies company still had “a lot of homework to do” until then, said Adenauer.

The outbreak has fuelled a debate in Germany on the conditions for workers at slaughterhouses.

Germany has recorded nearly 194,000 coronavirus cases and 8,961 deaths to date, giving it one of the lowest fatality rates in Europe, reported AFP.

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.