Merkel warns Germany ‘up to 70 percent of country could become infected’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says up to 70 percent of the population could eventually become infected by coronavirus, and proposed how to deal with the crisis' impact on society and the economy.

Merkel warns Germany 'up to 70 percent of country could become infected'
Health Minister Jens Spahn and Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

During a press conference held on Wednesday, Merkel called on citizens to show solidarity in the face of the corona crisis.

When it comes to protecting vulnerable people, including the elderly or those with underlying illnesses, Merkel said: “Our solidarity, our sensibility, our hearts are already being put to the test, and I hope that we will pass this test.”

Merkel said the main task was to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“The virus has arrived in Europe, it's there, we must all understand that,” said the chancellor.

There is still no vaccine, she said. “According to experts, 60 to 70 percent of the population could be infected if this remains the case,” said Merkel.

The central issue is now to “not overload our health system” so that it doesn't become burdened with too many cases at once, said Merkel.

She said no action taken to prevent the spread was in vain. “It is not for nothing”, she said. “It's all about buying time.”

She noted that every European country was affected and sent thoughts to Italy, the worst affected country in Europe.

“We sincerely hope that the tough measures taken there will bring about a turn for the better,” she said.

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

Meanwhile, President of the Robert Koch Institute Lothar Wieler confirmed that Germany is only at the beginning of the epidemic.

With three deaths and the number of infections pushing close to 1,300, Merkel's government has called for the cancellation of large events with more than 1,000 people.

Bundesliga clubs are playing to empty stadiums while key events on the business calendar like the Berlin ITB travel fair or the Hannover Messe industrial show have all been shuttered.

Classical concerts and operas in the capital are also hit, as curtains stay down for cultural events gathering more than 500 spectators.

In a bid to cushion the blow on workers forced to cut work hours because of crashing demand and production bottlenecks, the government is pushing through rules to ease compensation regulations for affected employees.

The relaxed criteria will apply from April and will be valid up to the end of the year.

Merkel called for coordinated action by the federal, state and local governments in response to cancellations of major events. Health Minister Jens Spahn said that there would be further restrictions on everyday life in the coming weeks and months.

A meeting with the states with regard to crisis management is to take place on Thursday. 

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: What restrictions are there to daily life in Germany?

German government will do what's needed

Merkel also said that the government is not ruling out suspending a self-imposed dogma of keeping Germany's budget balanced in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

“It is an extraordinary situation, we will do what's necessary and luckily Germany is relatively robust… we see at the end of that where our budget stands,” she said, stressing that ending the virus crisis “comes first”.

Maintaining a balanced or “black zero” budget has been a key campaign selling point of Merkel's government, which believes that it would be irresponsible for the fast ageing nation to incur more debt that would be left to a shrinking workforce to service.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: German industry fears 'longest recession since reunification

But with the coronavirus outbreak forcing some countries to shut borders, companies to keep workforces home and as foreign orders collapse, calls have grown for Merkel's government to help prop up Germany's economy.

“An economy like Germany's, which is extremely export dependent, is of course harder hit by global challenges than one that is very concentrated on” its domestic demand, acknowledged Merkel, saying that the government will announce liquidity help for firms.

Underlining the need to throw all resources at stemming contagion, the German chancellor also said the government will look the other way if severely hit countries like Italy were to flout the EU's rules on limiting public deficit as it fights the virus.

“On the European level regarding the stability and growth pact, we will be flexible. That was an important conclusion yesterday.”

Merkel's press conference on Wednesday marked her first outing before the press on COVID-19 and comes as Germany's biggest daily Bild accused her on its front page of failing to take charge in the crisis.

The German leader shrugged off the criticism, saying that Health Minister Spahn “is aware” of her involvement from the start.


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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.