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Coronavirus outbreak has become a ‘global pandemic’ says German Health Minister

The coronavirus outbreak has turned into "a global pandemic", German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday, warning that worse was still to come.

Coronavirus outbreak has become a 'global pandemic' says German Health Minister
A Red Cross worker wearing a protective mask in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA

The situation in Germany and across Europe had changed drastically in recent days, he said, with Germany reporting a sharp uptick to 240 cases.

“The coronavirus outbreak in China has become a global pandemic,” Spahn told German lawmakers in the Bundestag.

“The situation is changing very quickly,” he said. “What's clear is that we have not yet reached the peak of the outbreak.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far stopped short of declaring a pandemic – defined as an epidemic that spreads throughout the world through local transmission.

But it has urged countries to prepare for a potential pandemic.

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

The number of novel coronavirus cases in the world has now risen to more than 93,000, including 3,201 deaths across 81 countries and territories.

Spahn added that Germany was continually analysing the situation in a bid to slow down the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Germany.

“When cancelling major events and closing schools and daycare centres, the principle applies: the safety of the population takes precedence – even over economic interests,” he added.

He added that the government was also updating its medical guidelines to make sure that overstretched health workers concentrate their efforts “on the most acute” cases if the outbreak worsens.

That could also mean that non-urgent surgeries might be postponed, he said, stressing however that “we aren't there yet”.

As of Wednesday morning, 240 people were reported to have contracted the virus in Germany, the bulk of them in North Rhine-Westphalia state where a couple with coronavirus attended carnival celebrations last month.

But cases have been confirmed in all of Germany's 16 states except for the eastern Saxony-Anhalt.

Meanwhile, Germany's Interior Ministry said it had banned exports of medical protection gear such as masks and gloves to ensure health workers in the country have enough to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Five key questions about the coronavirus answered

“The next days and weeks will be challenging,” said Spahn. “There will be restrictions on everyday life in affected areas and that can cause some stress.”

But he said the government was working closely with regional states and European partners to respond to the virus “in a cool-headed way” and take “appropriate measures”.

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HEALTH

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. 

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