Germany ‘must do everything’ to break fourth Covid wave, says Health Minister

Germany this week reported over 50,000 coronavirus infections in 24 hours - the world’s highest. Health Minister Jens Spahn now recommends new restrictions will be needed - even for the vaccinated.

Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a conference on Friday.
Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a conference on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Germany’s outgoing federal government is floating new restrictions aimed at curbing the country’s fourth Covid-19 wave, after it registered the highest number of new infections worldwide this week. Furthermore, the planned restrictions will, to some extent, affect everyone in the country, including the fully vaccinated.

“We must do everything necessary to break this trend,” Spahn told a press conference, warning how an uncontrolled spread could see the country’s Covid-19 numbers double every two weeks. “Otherwise it will be a bitter December for the whole country.”

Spahn is now floating the idea of a “2G Plus” rule for large events and clubs. Such a rule would restrict entry to the “geimpft” (vaccinated) and “genesen” (people who’ve recovered from Covid recently). This is already in place in many federal states for bars and clubs – but a “Plus” rule would require attendees to also present a negative test result alongside their certificate of recovery or vaccine pass.

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder has already made a similar suggestion. Spahn has also joined many federal and state politicians in saying that a negative test result should also be required for anyone visiting a care home.

‘I won’t attend NYE parties’

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), is asking people – including the vaccinated – to reduce their contacts and avoid large events entirely.

“It’s five minutes past midnight,” warned Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), underlining the serious situation. 

The weekly infection rate has soared to an all-time high of 263.7 per 100,000 people, and intensive care beds are filling up rapidly.

Several German cities kicked off months-long carnival celebrations on Thursday, with revellers required to prove they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid before entering the party zones.

The country’s much-loved Christmas market season is also on its way.

But Wieler said large gatherings “must be viewed very critically” and in some situations “clearly should be cancelled.”

Indoor celebrations especially can act as superspreader events “and everyone must really think about whether they want to expose themselves to that risk,” he told reporters in Berlin.

“I personally won’t be attending New Year’s Eve parties. But I urge people not to wait until then to think about their actions.”

Germany’s Covid surge has been blamed on a relatively low vaccination rate, with just over 67 percent of the population of some 83 million people fully inoculated.

Other European nations are battling similar Covid resurgences.

Austria has introduced rules that bar unvaccinated people from certain events and indoor venues. The Netherlands is planning a renewed “partial lockdown” as cases hit record levels.

‘Bitter December’

Health Minister Spahn, speaking alongside Wieler, said the situation in Germany “is serious”.

To help facilitate new testing requirements, Spahn has also announced that Germany will return to providing widespread free Covid-19 testing this weekend, after ending it in October in a bid to incentivise vaccination.

Several hard-hit states have already tightened their 2G rules to bar the unvaccinated from restaurants, gyms, hairdressers, and cultural spaces. Spahn, however, isn’t ruling out the possibility that another lockdown would be necessary.

The federal government and leaders of Germany’s 16 regional states are meeting next Thursday to discuss joint measures to combat the pandemic, following criticisms of a confusing patchwork of different restrictions emerging.

Among the proposed measures are stricter curbs on the unvaccinated, for instance by excluding them from indoor dining or venues such as cinemas, gyms and theatres – which some states are already doing.

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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.