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Germany plans mass study to track immunity to coronavirus

German researchers plan to regularly test over 100,000 people to see if they have overcome infection with COVID-19 to track its spread, an institute behind the plan confirmed Friday.

Germany plans mass study to track immunity to coronavirus
Testing for the coronavirus at Berlin's Charité hospital. Photo: DPA

A spokeswoman for Brunswick's Helmholtz Institute for Infectious Disease Research confirmed a report in news weekly Der Spiegel that large-scale testing for coronavirus antibodies could start in April if researchers are given the green light.

“You could give immune people something similar to a vaccination certificate that could allow them exceptions from limits on their activities,” Helmholtz Institute epidemiologist Gerard Krause, who is tipped to lead the study, told Der Spiegel.

German schools, non-essential shops and restaurants are now closed and public gatherings of more than two people banned.

Krause would work institutions on the front line of Germany's response to the virus, including disease control authority the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and Berlin's Charité hospital.

By Friday, the RKI reported over 42,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in Europe's most populous nation, and 253 deaths.

“Results from the study will make it easier to decide when schools could be reopened and large events permitted,” Der Spiegel wrote.

It will also allow them to determine a more accurate mortality rate from the virus.

The first results are expected in late April.

But even if the study is approved, initial readings might not be completely reliable.

Tests currently available can show false positives for coronavirus antibodies, as 90 percent of adults already have immunity against common, harmless viruses from the same family.

“Researchers hope a more precise testing process will be available in two to three months,” Spiegel reported.

Then it could be more reliably determined whether someone is still at risk from the virus and can infect others or not.

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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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