‘Merkel is back’: Coronavirus crisis boosts German chancellor

Angela Merkel's long-struggling conservatives have rebounded in the polls thanks to the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis and widespread faith in the outgoing German chancellor's ability to manage the upheaval.

'Merkel is back': Coronavirus crisis boosts German chancellor
Photo: DPA

Shaking off years of record-low popularity, Merkel's centre-right CDU/CSU bloc is now enjoying approval ratings of around 32 to 35 percent, some six to seven points higher than just a few weeks ago.

It's a surprise turn of events for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which as recently as last month was riven by internal turmoil and debate over who would be the party's chancellor candidate when Merkel bows out in 2021.

“Merkel is back,” the NTV broadcaster said in an online editorial, noting that the veteran politician had reasserted control after a spell on the sidelines that left her vulnerable to criticism of being a “lame duck” leader.

“At the end of her time in office comes the greatest political challenge of her career,” it said — and it seems Germans like what they're seeing.

A former scientist, Merkel's clear grasp of the facts and cool-headed manner have reassured an anxious nation. Confidence in her right-left coalition government has also been bolstered by Germany's coronavirus statistics.

Although the number of cases continues to climb, reaching over 52,000 at the weekend, the country has a lower death toll than European neighbours.

Race wide open

Merkel initially came under fire for letting Health Minister Jens Spahn, often tipped as a potential future chancellor, take the lead on the virus handling.

It wasn't until March 11 that she gave her first press conference on the pandemic.

But since then Merkel has given a flurry of briefings and even made a television appeal to the nation to urge citizens to take the social distancing measures seriously.

The broadcast, watched by millions, was the first time during her 14 years in power that Merkel directly addressed the nation outside her usual New Year's speech.

Known for her low-key lifestyle, the 65-year-old then led by example and was snapped doing her weekly supermarket shop with just one pack of toilet paper in her trolley, and four bottles of wine.




Merkel also won plaudits for going into home-quarantine after it emerged that she had been vaccinated by a doctor who tested positive for the coronavirus. Her own tests have come back negative, and the chancellor is running the nation by video link in the meantime.

The unprecedented societal and economic shocks triggered by the pandemic could shake up the race to succeed Merkel.

The CDU's planned April 25 congress to decide on a new party chief, who would also be the future chancellor candidate, has been scrapped along with all other major gatherings.

One of the leading contenders, longtime Merkel critic Friedrich Merz, has seen his star fade as his liberal business stance falls out of step with growing appetite for state aid to shield Europe's top economy from the virus fallout.

His rival Armin Laschet, who is backed by popular health minister Spahn, meanwhile is holding near daily press conferences as the state premier of Germany's worst-hit North Rhine-Westphalia region. 

Far-right suffers

Merkel's centre-left junior coalition partner the Social Democrats(SPD) are also back in favour as Germans welcome the government's move to swiftly unleash billions of euros in stimulus spending to protect jobs and companies.

According to the best-selling Bild newspaper on Sunday, Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc and the SPD would once again claim a majority if new elections were held now — a feat no survey has pointed to since June 2018.

Their boost comes partly at the expense of the ecologist Greens, who had been riding high in recent months but now face a shift in voter priorities as the fight against the pandemic outweighs concern about climate change.

But the biggest loser so far appears to be the far-right AfD party, the largest opposition group in the national parliament, whose popularity has plunged below 10 percent in some surveys.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought “a return to values that are rather alien to the AfD: solidarity, reliability, caution, confidence in the power of science,” wrote Der Spiegel weekly.

Member comments

  1. “Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU bloc is now enjoying approval ratings of around 32 to 35 percent”. I’m not sure I would classify 32-35% as good

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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.