Germany enlists industrial giants to procure face masks and medical gear

Berlin is enlisting German multinationals and their networks of contacts abroad, especially in China, to secure protective clothing and equipment in the fight against the coronavirus, the health ministry said Friday.

Germany enlists industrial giants to procure face masks and medical gear
Markus Söder (CSU), Minister President of Bavaria, stands with a face mask in a production hall of the automotive supplier Zettl on April 2nd. Photo: DPA

“The health ministry procures directly, but we are also in contact with a whole string of companies… who may be able to help,” a spokeswoman told reporters at a press conference in the German capital.

A spokesman for chemical giant BASF told AFP that its “employees are on a government procurement team” known as the Task Force Personal Protective Equipment (TFPSA).

“In China, BASF experts are currently working with other companies and their local contacts to help procure and transport medical protective clothing and equipment such as face masks that are urgently needed in Germany,” the spokesman said.

Public broadcaster ARD had earlier reported that other German global giants like carmaker Volkswagen and airline group Lufthansa were involved in the effort.

Staff from the health, finance and foreign ministries were looking to counter “dynamic market developments”, ARD reported, quoting from a government document that outlined the scheme.

A global rush to secure vital gear for medical personnel as they treat virus-infected patients has sent prices soaring and led to Wild West-like scenes in producer countries.

French regional leaders told AFP that shipments of masks they had ordered were snapped up by American buyers as they stood ready for departure on the tarmac at Chinese airports.

“The Americans took a shipment from us, we've identified a load they outbid us on,” said Valerie Pecresse, head of the Ile-de-France region that encompasses capital Paris and its surroundings.

So far Berlin has been able to acquire around 20 million face masks, although many hospitals, medical practices and care homes still report shortages.

In light of the corona crisis, companies such as Bavarian automotive supplier Zettle have ceased normal operations and began producing protective masks.

READ ALSO: 'They could reduce the risk': Germany's public health institute changes stance on face masks

Hopes the German military's procurement arm could speed up the process have been disappointed, as most of the gear so far has been procured directly by the health ministry.

A shipment of six million masks ordered by the military went missing at an airport in Kenya in March, the defence ministry confirmed last week.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) responsible for disease control reported Friday 76,696 confirmed coronavirus infections in Germany, an increase of more than 6,000 in 24 hours.

So far over 1,000 Germans have died of the COVID-19 disease.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus deaths in Germany top 1,000 as officials say infection rate is slowing

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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.