‘200,000 tests a day’: Germany pushes to expand coronavirus testing

In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the German government is considering a push to massively expand testing, looking to South Korea as a role model.

'200,000 tests a day': Germany pushes to expand coronavirus testing
A woman receiving a nasal swab at a drive-in for coronavirus testing in Munich. Germany's Interior Ministry is pushing for more people to do the tests themselves in future. Photo: DPA

Increased testing capacities in Germany is “overdue”, according to a confidential strategy paper from Germany's Interior Ministry entitled “How to Get Covid-19 Under Control”, seen by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and German broadcasters NDR and WDR.

According to the paper, the government must work towards a “rapid control” scenario in order to avert worse consequences for public health, the economy and society as a whole.

As of Friday morning, there were over 45,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany and 276 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The previous method, based on the motto “we test to confirm the situation”, should be replaced by the approach “we test to get ahead of the situation”, stated the policy paper.

It mentioned South Korea, which has used mass tests and the isolation of infected people to slow down the spread of the virus without bringing public life to a standstill, as a role model. Unlike China, South Korea did not impose any general curfews. 

By far, the most important measure against slowing the speed of the coronavirus, according to the paper, is “testing and isolating infected people”. 

Increasing testing 'very quickly'

Both people who suspect they have coronavirus “as well as the entire circle of contacts of confirmed cases” should be tested, the document stated.

The experts say that testing capacity in Germany should be increased “very quickly”, with the aim to carry out 100,000 a day from April 13th, and 200,000 at the end of April. 

Berlin-based senior virologist Christian Drosten estimated on Thursday that around 500,000 tests are currently being carried out per week.

READ ALSO: Germany ramps up coronavirus tests to 500,000 a week

The Interior Ministry stated that innovative solutions are needed for broad-based testing. In order to protect medical staff from those infected, people should do the the necessary nasal swabs themselves – for example in “drive-in” or telephone box test stations. 

In order to better track down those who tested positive, computer-supported solutions and even location tracking of mobile phones should be used in the longer term, it added. 

Anyone who tests positive would have to be isolated, either at home or in a quarantine facility. Once these procedures are in place, “they can immediately contain the small outbreaks that are likely to flare up again and again at reasonable cost over several years,” the paper stated. 

It is also necessary to increase the number of hospital beds significantly. Currently, there are almost 300,000 beds in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. Another 60,000 could probably be set up in hotels and exhibition halls, which Germany’s 16 states have already made space for.

READ ALSO: Germany ramps up intensive care and hospital capacity in coronavirus fight

'Mobilization campaign'

A large misconception is that the coronavirus only affects the elderly or is harmless to children. According to the experts, all people in Germany must realise that they too could find themselves in a dramatic situation, for example because seriously ill relatives could be turned away from overcrowded hospitals. 

Therefore, a “Germany-wide and transparent information and mobilisation campaign” is necessary.

The paper also assumes that the death rate and number of seriously ill patients are significantly higher than those published daily by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

While the RKI currently estimates the lethality of the pathogen in Germany at 0.56 per cent, the Interior Ministry estimates that 1.2 per cent of those infected will die from the coronavirus.

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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.