‘Up to 10 million’ in Germany could contract coronavirus in coming months

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) gave a new estimate on how many people in Germany could become infected with coronavirus if they don't follow emergency measures, as Germany approved a plan for more treatment space.

'Up to 10 million' in Germany could contract coronavirus in coming months
A sign set up at a hospital in Bielefeld for patients who suspect they might have the coronavirus. Photo: DPA

“If we don't manage to sustainably and effectively reduce contact between people over a matter of weeks, then it is possible we will have up to 10 million cases within two to three months,” said RKI president Lothar Wieler at a press conference.

He added that the RKI would use anonymised mobile phone data provided by Deutsche Telekom to check whether the public were keeping to the new measures.

The current measures are extremely important now that Germany is still at the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak, added Wieler. He expressed hope that “a vaccine would realistically be available by 2021.”

“We are at the beginning of an epidemic that will continue for many weeks and months in our country,” he said.

The assessment came as Germany grappled with 9,919 confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and 26 deaths as of Wednesday at 12am, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the RKI.

'Relieve pressure'

Germany will relieve coronavirus pressure on hospitals by converting spaces like hotels, rehabilitation centres and public halls into spaces for treating people with milder symptoms, federal and states governments said Wednesday.

The measures “can build up additional capacity for the numerous simpler treatments… freeing up hospitals to deal with the more serious cases,” officials said in a statement.

In addition, the number of intensive care beds in hospitals is set to be doubled. 

On Tuesday, the RKI had raised its assessment for the coronavirus in Germany to a “high” level – giving a “very high” rating to areas such as Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia – and said that the number of serious cases was rising.

On Wednesday, Germany's statutory health insurance companies stated that they would cover all costs incurred in the medical fight against the coronavirus pandemic – by dipping into their reserves and receiving federal funds if necessary. 

On Wednesday evening, Chancellor Angela Merkel is to give her first televised speech urging people to heed to government recommendations to stay home, after Europe's biggest economy announced sweeping new measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus restrictions: What's closed (and what's open) in Germany?

Growing number of patients

Hospitals need to quickly prepare for a growing number of seriously ill patients, said RKI Director Lothar Wieler on Tuesday.

“We expect all hospitals to at least double their intensive care capacities,” said Wieler.

The new emergency plan says that Germany's 16 states should work closely with their respective hospitals with the goal of doubling intensive care capacities “by building up provisional intensive care capacities.”

According to these plans, additional bed and treatment capacities must be built up at other hospitals and, if necessary, at “temporary additional locations” in order to relieve the burden on hospitals.

According to Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU), there are currently 28,000 intensive care beds in Germany, of which 25,000 have ventilation options.

These are needed for those who show the most serious of symptoms, as is known to occur when the disease reaches the lungs.

Spahn wrote last week to hospitals in Germany urging them to prepare for the growing pandemic, saying they should try and draft in retired workers and medical students for help.

With reporting from AFP.


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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.