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Germany debates post-lockdown plan as Merkel calls coronavirus ‘biggest test in EU history’

The German government said Monday that it's not yet giving any cut-off dates on restrictions on public life scheduled to last until April 19th.

Germany debates post-lockdown plan as Merkel calls coronavirus 'biggest test in EU history'
Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) said that she could not yet name such a exit date for restrictions on public life – currently in place until April 19th – and that this would be “irresponsible” in the current situation.

“We would be a bad government if we were to name a date now,” Merkel said at a press conference on Monday, referring to a possible relaxation of the current coronavirus rules which mandate closures of non-essential businesses and severely limit public life.

READ ALSO: Germany bans gatherings of more than two to control coronavirus spread

A return to normalcy?

However, a draft action plan by Germany's Interior Ministry spoke of a return to normality, reported news agency Reuters, using mechanisms that will make it possible to trace more than 80 percent of people with whom an infected person had contact within 24 hours of diagnosis.

Those confirmed to be infected – and those they had contact with – with would be quarantined, either at home or in hotels.

According to the report, retail stores and restaurants could reopen on April 19th, and in certain regions, schools would also welcome students again. Large events and private celebrations would remain prohibited for the time being, however.

Furthermore, according to the report, face masks will be made mandatory in buses, trains, factories and buildings as soon as a sufficient stock is made available.

However, Merkel did not comment on this on Monday.

'A very different Easter'

In her weekly podcast published on Friday evening, the Chancellor said that she would “act absolutely irresponsibly if today I were simply to give you a concrete day on which the measures could be lifted or at least eased, but then not keep this promise because the infection figures do not allow it”.

She added that “we're all going to have a very different Easter than ever before”.

Seibert also praised Germans, saying that the majority were sticking to the restrictions.

Neighbouring Austria announced on Monday that it will ease its lockdown restrictions on April 14th, when it will allow some non-essential shops to reopen under strict hygiene measures.

'Biggest test in history'

The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest test that the EU has faced in its history, Merkel added on Monday, stressing that Germany is “ready to contribute” to boosting the bloc.

“In my view… the European Union stands before the biggest test since its founding,” Merkel told journalists ahead of a key eurozone finance ministers' conference to draw up an economic rescue plan for the bloc.

“Everyone is just as affected as the other, and therefore, it is in everyone's interest, and it is in Germany's interest for Europe to emerge strong from this test.”

Discussions between EU leaders over what a possible aid package would consist of have been fraught with nations hardest hit in the health crisis pitted against economically stronger countries.

Italy, France and Spain have been imploring Germany, Austria and the Netherlands for common debt facilities to cushion the economic impact of the virus.

'Self-sufficiency'

But conservative politicians in the north fear the plans would mean the eventual mutualisation of all sovereign debts and their taxpayers footing the bill for supposed southern profligacy.

At Monday's press conference, Merkel reiterated her government's stance of activating the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund, which German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has said could be triggered “with no senseless conditions” to help struggling states.

But she made no mention of the controversial common debt facilities dubbed “coronabonds”.

Merkel also said a lesson to be learnt from the pandemic was that Europe needed to develop “self-sufficiency” in manufacturing of crucial medical gear such as masks.

“Regardless of the fact that this market is presently installed in Asia… we need a certain self-sufficiency, or at least a pillar of our own manufacturing” in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, she said.

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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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