Germany agrees on economic package worth hundreds of billions in coronavirus fight

Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on Monday agreed an unprecedented package of support to Europe's biggest economy worth hundreds of billions of euros to cushion the impact of measures to contain the novel coronavirus.

Germany agrees on economic package worth hundreds of billions in coronavirus fight
A sign in Berlin on Monday advising passersby to stay at home. Photo: DPA

Funded by a massive surge in government borrowing and comprising direct cash injections as well as far-reaching loan guarantees, the steps to help companies, workers and households are expected to be voted through by both houses of parliament by the end of the week.

READ ALSO: Germany plans €822 billion economic aid package to fight coronavirus crisis

“We're showing that right from the beginning we will fight with all our might against this crisis calling into question healthcare for our citizens or economic activity in this country,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said at a Berlin press conference.

MPs in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) are expected to wave through the package on Wednesday, while it should pass the second house representing Germany's federal states on Friday.

On top of the €122 billion in direct spending, including €50 billion to support small businesses and €55 billion for fighting the pandemic, Germany will also set up a protective shield for workers and companies.

The measures will mean the government will offer a total of around €822 billion of guarantees through public investment bank KfW for loans to companies, as well as extending social programmes like top-up pay for workers placed on shorter hours.

What exactly will the package cover?

The support package covers a number of areas: Small companies and self-employed people such as artists and carers are to receive direct grants of up to 15,000 over three months.

READ ALSO: Germany plans €40 billion 'rescue package' for freelancers and small businesses

A so-called stabilisation fund will provide credit to companies, and the state will be able to take a stake in the companies if necessary.

In addition, landlords will no longer be allowed to evict to their tenants if they cannot pay their rent due to the corona crisis.

In the case of Hartz IV welfare applications, the property audit and the examination of the amount of the rent paid for the apartment are to be suspended for six months.

READ ALSO: German government promises relief for renters amid coronavirus crisis

Families with low income are also slated to receive child supplements more easily.

Expanded regulations on reduced working hours will also make it easier for companies to keep employees instead of sending them into unemployment.

Germany's hospitals are to be supported with more than €3 billion.

Other decisions

Cabinet also decided that the federal government should have more powers in the field of epidemic control, that insolvency law should be relaxed and that companies and associations should be allowed to hold their annual and general meetings online.

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) took part in the cabinet meeting by telephone, as she has been in quarantine in her private apartment in Berlin since Sunday evening. A doctor who had vaccinated her on Friday had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Speaking alongside Scholz, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier warned the crisis could slash German GDP this year by “at least as much” as during the 2008-9 financial crisis, when it plunged five percent.





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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.