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Politicians ‘underestimated’ coronavirus threat, says EU chief

Political leaders "underestimated" the magnitude of the danger posed by the coronavirus, the German president of the European Commission admitted Wednesday, as the EU shut its borders.

Politicians 'underestimated' coronavirus threat, says EU chief
Ursula von der Leyen speaking at a video conference with EU leaders on Monday. Photo: DPA

“I think that all of us who are not experts initially underestimated the coronavirus,” Ursula von der Leyen told Germany's Bild newspaper in an interview published Wednesday.

“But now it is clear that this is a virus that will keep us busy for a long time yet.”

READ ALSO: EU imposes entry ban for 30 days in bid to slow coronavirus crisis

“We understand that measures that seemed drastic two or three weeks ago, need to be taken now,” she added.

The coronavirus outbreak, which first emerged in China late last year, has quickly marched across the globe, infecting nearly 200,000 people and killing 7,900 as governments scramble to contain it.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been 9,360 confirmed cases in Germany, and 26 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Koch Institute. Over a third of those cases are in the country's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But von der Leyen rejected the language of French president Emmanuel Macron, who likened the outbreak to war this week, and ordered almost the entire population to stay at home for at least two weeks.

“I will not personally use that term but I understand the motivation of the French president as the coronavirus is a worrying enemy.”

Germany's economy minister Peter Altmaier said the United States under Donald Trump had taken the threat of the virus even more lightly.

“The outbreak of the crisis was probably underestimated even more so in the US than in some countries in Europe,” Peter Altmaier told Germany's regional press group Funke. 

“That is the reason we very much hope that the US will manage to control the situation, also in our own interest,” he added.

“No-one hopes that the US economy would fall into an uncontrolled recession.”

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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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