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Coronavirus: These are the measures in Germany you need to know about

Germany is beginning to take extreme measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Here's what you need to know.

Coronavirus: These are the measures in Germany you need to know about
An empty classroom in North Rhine-Westphalia. Many German schools are closing to stop the spread. Photo: DPA

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As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rises, some countries are imposing strict measures, such as in Italy which is currently on lockdown.

With over 5,500 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Sunday, Germany is starting to follow suit, with states such as Berlin closing all bars, museums, clubs and fitness studios, and banning events with over 50 people. 

As of Monday, Germany will also be closing its borders with five countries: France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Denmark.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: Berlin orders closure of bars, museums and gyms

Deutsche Bahn will also be restricting its regional transport Germany-wide to an “Emergency Plan” starting on Tuesday or Wednesday. There will also be no ticket inspectors to protect their safety.

The move was made to accommodate the large number of DB employees who need to stay home with their children, and due to the reduced number of customers.

Most German states have closed schools and Kindergartens until April 20th, while Bavaria has imposed restrictions on families visiting nursing homes. 

Even though coronavirus or COVID-19 is not dangerous for the majority of people, it can be to high-risk groups, such as the elderly or those with a compromised immune system. 

So politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, are urging people to show solidarity with more vulnerable groups and limit non-essential social contact, wash hands more and not attend large gatherings. 

The aim is to slow down the spread of the virus so that hospitals and health workers do not become overwhelmed.

But what does all this actually mean? Here’s a breakdown. 

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

What should I do and what action is Germany taking?

Since the beginning of the outbreak, everyone has been advised to wash their hands thoroughly and more often, and avoid shaking hands. 

According to the government, residents in Germany should also, when possible, avoid going on trips, using public transport and instead work from home. 

“Generally, all contact with others should be reduced,” said the government in a press release.

Chancellor Merkel and Health Minister Jens Spahn have urged people to think about what is essential and what isn’t at this time, and practise “social distancing” (staying away from other people).

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

They say social engagements or gatherings with lots of people should be postponed for now.

Berlin is to close its bars, clubs and other facilities such as gyms and swimming pools. Restaurants will remain open for now.

Cologne is also banning all events, with only a few exceptions, as many other cities in North-Rhine Westphalia impose strict measures as the number of confirmed cases rise above 2,000.

The government has also urged for events with more than 1,000 people to be cancelled. Many cultural buildings are shutting for the time being, including libraries, while clubs have closed their doors.

Merkel has also said smaller events with hundreds of people should also not go ahead. 

So what can we take from this? Well, if it's not essential don't do it.

It's important to remember that closures are temporary and things will get back to normal in the future, likely after the worst has passed.

Of course there is bound to be an economic impact on businesses and people will be worried about this. The government says it will support firms, as well as workers with economic help and the most important thing at this stage is to limit the spread.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus – the everday precautions to take if you're in Germany

Should I take any other action?

Citizens over the age of 60 should inquire with their doctor about getting a vaccine against pneumococcal infection, authorities say. 

Experts have also advised people to do what they can to avoid putting people at risk.

A man wearing a protective face mask in Cologne. Photo: DPA

“We must really protect the population above the retirement age,” said the director of the Institute of Virology at the Berlin Charité, Christian Drosten.

He said families needed to look for solutions that would keep older people safe.

“From now until September or October, children should no longer go to grandma and grandpa for care,” he said.

What should I do if I think I have coronavirus or I’ve come into contact with someone who has it?

People who have had personal contact with someone confirmed as carrying SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) should immediately, and irrespective of symptoms, contact their regional health office, get in touch with their doctor or call the non-emergency medical health number 116 117 – and self-isolate at home.

A coronavirus infection causes symptoms such as a dry cough, fever, a runny nose and fatigue. There have also been reports of difficulties breathing, an itchy throat, headaches, joint pains, nausea, diarrhoea and shivering.

If you have any of these symptoms you should also stay at home and NOT go to the doctors surgery. Instead, contact the doctor or a health hotline number and you will be advised of the next steps. 

If you have any serious symptoms, the emergency number in Germany is 112.

The coronavirus incubation period is two to 14 days, with an average of seven days.

What happens if I have a cold? Do I need to go to the doctor for a sick note?

As The Local reported this week, patients with mild respiratory ailments (such as a common cold) can get certificate of incapacity to work (sick note) issued for a maximum of seven days, after consulting with their doctor by phone.

There is no need to go to a doctor’s practice for this purpose. This agreement has been in force since March 9th, for an initial period of four weeks and was introduced to help relieve doctors during this busy time.

READ ALSO: The German vocab you need to understand coronavirus

What happens if I’ve been abroad?

The Health Ministry has now urged all recently returned travellers to Germany from Italy, Switzerland and Austria to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, regardless if they have symptoms or not.
Previously, this measure was only for people who had COVID-19 symptoms.
“If you have been in Italy, Switzerland or Austria within the last 14 days avoid unnecessary contact and stay at home for two weeks,” said Health Minister Jens Spahn and his ministry wrote on Twitter on Friday night.
This applies “regardless of whether you have symptoms or not”. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Europe is now at the epicentre of the outbreak.
Should you develop symptoms within 14 days, you should contact a doctor.
Germany's neighbours, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark, are sealing off their borders to foreigners in a bid to limit the spread.
Since midnight on Friday March 13th, Germans, Austrians, Swiss and citizens of 12 other high-risk countries are no longer allowed to enter the Czech Republic.
Denmark planned to close its borders on Saturday. Switzerland is reintroducing controls at its borders – also with Germany.
Austria will close many of its shops for a week initally and also quarantine the Paznaun valley and the community of St. Anton am Arlberg (both in Tyrol).

Meanwhile, by establishing a quarantine zone for the whole of Catalonia, northeastern Spain region aims to combat the spread of the epidemic.

The Robert Koch Institute has added Tyrol and Madrid to its list of international risk areas. So far, these already include Italy, Iran, the Chinese province of Hubei, a province in South Korea, and in France Alsace, Lorraine and the Champagne-Ardenne region.

How dangerous is coronavirus?   

As of Friday, there were 2,750 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Germany. The Robert Koch Institute analysed about 650 cases in more detail, reported German daily Welt on Thursday.

Rsearchers found that 54 percent are male and 46 percent female. Among them there were 11 children under 5-years-old and another 14 children up to the age of 14.

A total of 547 people were between 15 and 59 years old, and 76 people were over the age of 60.

Among cases reported to date across the board, disease progression was mild in four out of five cases. In some patients, the virus can lead to severe illness including difficult breathing and to pneumonia.

Deaths have mainly occurred among patients who were elderly and/or had prior underlying chronic illnesses.

Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler said that 60 to 70 per cent of the German population would become infected with the virus over a longer period of time.

And he said the country should unfortunately expect more deaths.

“Of course, more people will die in our country,” Wieler said. “Particularly when it comes to those over 65, the mortality rate will rise rapidly.”

READ ALSO: School closures and no partying: How coronavirus is affecting life in Germany

Will I definitely be given a coronavirus test in Germany if I think I have it?     

Currently, hospitals and doctors decide who will be tested and they base their decision on the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute. 

According to the RKI, symptoms such as fever, a sore throat and breathing problems, on their own, are not sufficient. The person must also have had contact with an infected person, or have spent time in a region in which the virus was proven to exist over large areas.

Health insurance funds have been covering the cost of coronavirus testing in Germany. The prerequisite is that the doctor decides whether the patient should be tested.

Will I continue to be paid if I have to take time off work?

Yes, your employer will continue to pay your salary. Your employer will then be entitled to reimbursement.

If your employer does not pay, you are entitled to compensation from the local authority (according to Section 56 of the Protection against Infection Act (IfSG)). In the first six weeks, this compensation will correspond to your net salary. After this period, you will receive the amount you would receive as sick pay.

What about self-employed and freelance people?

Self-employed people and freelancers will also receive compensation for loss of earnings according to the Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases. The local authority will base compensation on the profit from the tax declaration of the previous calendar year.

Do I need to stock up on food?

Experts say no-one needs to worry about supermarkets not being able to provide enough food so there is no need to panic-buy.

The government says: “There are explicitly no supply problems, the supply of food is still guaranteed. Retailers have given assurances that they will respond to the increased demand and increase the product range.”

Some items that have been selling out in German supermarkets are toilet roll, tinned food and pasta.

A customer with a car packed full of toilet and kitchen roll in Brunthal, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

Should I cancel my trip to Germany?

A lot of readers are getting in touch to ask if they should still visit Germany. Lots of flights are being cancelled at the moment or operators are giving the option to change dates so check with your airline to see if there are any changes.

Now that some places in Germany are partially shutdown, life is not continuing as normal and most events have been cancelled.

There are currently no travel bans on entering Germany (however other countries like the US has one in place right now for people coming from Germany) but keep an eye on advice in your country to see if that changes.

Can Germany cope with the spread?

Authorities say Germany is prepared for the crisis but there is growing concern that the German health care system will be overloaded.

Although Germany has 28,000 intensive care beds, if too many people become ill at once it would cause massive difficulties, similar to what's happening in Italy.

Experts have pointed out that the pattern and rising number of cases in Germany is similar to what happened in Italy.

If this pattern continues, there are fears that severely affected regions in Germany, such as North Rhine-Westphalia, could face a similar bottleneck to that currently affecting Lombardy in about two weeks' time.

“We must do everything possible to prevent such drastic measures as in Italy,” said Health Minister Spahn this week.

Will Germany impose a lockdown like some other countries including Italy?

On Friday there was still no sign of an enforced quarantine but many people are asking if Germany should take further and more decisive action.

Nevertheless, lots of buildings, such as libraries, gyms and cinemas have been closing as well as lots more schools.

We'll have to wait and see what the next steps are.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.