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THE LOCAL LOWDOWN

HEALTH

What’s new in 2013

The new year will bring plenty of changes to those living in Germany – from no quarterly co-payments for doctor visits to new TV licence fees – The Local has the lowdown on what’s new in 2013.

What’s new in 2013
Photo: DPA

Public broadcasting fees

In the past, if you tried to get out of paying your GEZ public broadcast licence fees, you had to worry about collectors showing up at your door. Anyone with a TV, radio, or computer was obliged to register and pay up – and the more devices you had, the higher your fees. But a growing number of people were content to simply dodge or deceive the enforcers, leaving the GEZ with dwindling revenues. Now nearly everyone is going to be forced to shell out for Germany’s public broadcasters. Each household will be made to pay a flat monthly contribution of €17.98 – TV or no TV, and regardless of the number of people living there. Those who are unemployed or seriously ill can receive exemptions or apply to pay a reduced sum.

Doctor’s office co-pay

Perhaps even more unpopular than TV fees have been the €10 patients have to plunk down to see a doctor in Germany. Introduced in 2004, the quarterly fee – known as the Praxisgebühr – was meant to reduce unnecessary trips to medical specialists. Instead, it has increased overhead for clinics and surgeries. The German government finally agreed in November to axe the co-payment after months of wrangling between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their junior partners the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

Childcare benefit

In exchange for winning the concession on the Praxisgebühr, the FDP agreed to back a new benefit for parents who care for their young children at home, starting in August 2013. Dubbed Betreuungsgeld, the €100 a month per child not in day care is hated by just about everyone except the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Besides the added disincentive for women to go back to work, the benefit is considered highly detrimental to the language skills of kids from immigrant families.

Wage tax cards

Germany has been preparing to make the switch to an electronic version of the wage tax card for a while now. After multiple delays, the system is finally going digital – meaning employees will no longer have to hang onto a flimsy piece of coloured paper containing important information, such as their income tax class and child deductions. For employers, it means tapping into a centralized database to calculate employees’ tax burden for a given pay period. And for everyone, that should mean less paperwork. Although things were supposed to be in place by January, employers will have the whole year to adjust to the digital system.

Tax breaks for electric cars

From 2013, people who choose an electric vehicle will be freed from car taxes (Kfz-Steuer) for ten instead of five years. The tax break is also valid for fuel cell-powered vehicles.

Long-distance buses

Domestic train services and budget airlines will face new competition from long-distance coaches in the coming year. After months of negotiations, the German government agreed to allow private bus companies to compete with state-subsidized public transport. But their stops must be at least 50 kilometres apart.

Energy efficiency renovations

A new scheme will offer up to €5,000 to help offset the cost of building renovations for energy efficiency. The federal government will pony up €300 million for the measures.

Stamp prices

The post office will raise the price for a normal letter in Germany from €0.55 to €0.58. The hike is the first in 15 years.

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HEALTH

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination. 

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