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Germany unleashes biggest post-war aid package against coronavirus

The German government on Friday unleashed the biggest economic aid package in the country's post-war history, offering companies "unlimited" credit to keep them afloat during the coronavirus crisis.

Germany unleashes biggest post-war aid package against coronavirus
Merkel speaking about the new package. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the measures “are unprecedented in the  history of the German government”, and repeated that Berlin would do “whatever is necessary” to tackle the fallout from the pandemic.

“There is no upper limit to the credit offered by (state-owned development bank) KfW, that's the most important message,” said Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.

The guarantees, the equivalent of $614 billion, were just “for starters”, said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

“We promised that we will not fail because of a lack of money and political will. This means that no healthy company, no job should find themselves in trouble,” he said.

“We will reload our weapons if necessary,” added Altmaier.

The ministers also signalled that Berlin has enough funds in its treasury for a long battle.

“If it lasts longer, we can go on longer,” said Scholz.

The message to companies is that: “You can be courageous, the risks will be carried by us,” he said.

The package, even in its first stage, is bigger than the 500 billion-euro help offered by the German government during the 2008 financial crisis.

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

Chancellor Angela Merkel had on Wednesday vowed to do what it takes to tame the coronavirus crisis, signalling she was even ready to suspend the cherished dogma of keeping Germany's budget balanced.

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

Scholz stressed that, due to having a budget surplus, the state could now do “what is now necessary” to provide security to companies and their workers.

“We show that we are stronger than the problem we face,” he said. The aid programmes through KfW help small, medium-sized and also large companies.

'Whatever it takes'

After six deaths and the number of infections reaching 2,369 in Germany, Merkel on Thursday urged organisers of all non essential events gathering less than 1,000 people to cancel them.

With demand from abroad collapsing, Europe's biggest economy's vital export industries are particularly vulnerable.

With the crisis showing no signs of abating for now, Germany is rushing through new regulations to allow more employees forced into shorter working hours to qualify for compensation.

Merkel's government had also already agreed to boost investments by 3.1 billion euros per year between 2021 and 2024.

The total hike in investments totalling €12.4 billion will be entirely funded by 2019's budget surplus, the coalition had announced on Monday after overnight talks.

Deka Bank chief economist Ulrich Kater said Friday's guarantee package is a “whatever it takes from the government”.

“Like how the ECB acted correctly during the eurozone crisis, the government is now doing the same in the coronacrisis,” he noted, saying that the measures to help particularly small and medium-sized companies through the crisis are “absolutely sensible”

“This is just the news that can stop the downward spiral.”

READ ALSO: Merkel calls for social contact to be avoided where possible

 

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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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