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‘Highly likely’ that Germany will enforce face masks, says Bavarian state premier

When Germany loosens its restrictions on public life, it’s “highly likely” that a requirement to wear a mask would follow, said Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder.

'Highly likely' that Germany will enforce face masks, says Bavarian state premier
Markus Söder (CSU), Minister President of Bavaria, stands with a face mask in a production hall of the automotive supplier Zettl on April 2nd. They are now producing face masks. Photo: DPA

Söder’s comments, made following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday April 7th, add to a growing debate over whether the Bundesrepublik should mandate that its residents wear a mask, as both neighbouring Austria and the eastern city of Jena began to enforce on Monday. 

READ ALSO: Jena becomes first German city to make wearing a mask mandatory

Söder also said that, “We must prepare people to live life with the pandemic. Part of that means wearing a mask more often,” he told the public broadcaster ARD.

As of Wednesday morning, Germany had over 107,600 coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins university. Bavaria is the country's worst-hit state, with over 27,564 cases.

“If as many masks as possible are used in the areas where people come together, then that benefits everyone,” said Söder, of the centre right Christian Social Union (CSU).

According to Bavarian health minister Melanie Huml (CSU), the southern state is expecting a mask delivery “in the millions” from abroad, with orders in the double-digit millions.

On Tuesday, Söder tweeted about a delivery eight million masks which had arrived at Munich's airport. “In the long run, we need, however, more masks in Germany. We need our own emergency production. We have already begun in Bavaria.”

Söder referred to the production of masks by various companies in Bavaria, including several which did not produce them before the crisis, such as car parts manufacturer Zettl.

A concept paper from Germany’s federal Interior Ministry on the country’s exit plans after the partial lockdown also talks about the introduction of compulsory masks in return for relaxation of other measures. 

For example, the wearing of protective masks in buses and trains – as well as in public buildings – is to be made mandatory as soon as enough masks are available, according to the draft plans.

READ ALSO: When and how will Germany's lockdown measures end?

Markus Söder (CSU), state premier of Bavaria, stands with a face mask in a production hall of the automotive supplier Zettl on April 2nd. Photo: DPA
 
Is it beneficial to wear a mask?

The Robert Koch Institute announced last week that wearing such a mask could help slow the spread of the coronavirus – even if a person doesn’t show symptoms.

Yet health care professions and politicians have warned against using masks which may be in short supply, and needed more urgently in hospitals.

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

“Do not order or buy professional protective masks on the Internet,” said German Doctors' Association President Klaus Reinhardt. “If you are not working in the healthcare sector or have corresponding preexisting conditions, you do not need FFP2 or FFP3 masks.” 

Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said last week that a distinction must be made between medical masks to protect medical staff from infection from patients and other masks worn in public – including self-sewn ones.

The latter are intended to prevent others from becoming infected, and could “actually also help to slow down the spread of the virus,” said Spahn.

The social media initiative #maskeauf (masks on) has taken off in Germany, with celebrities such as Lena Meyer-Landrut, satirist Jan Böhmermann and presenter Anne Will encouraging donning a face covering.

Several online resources around Germany are also devoted to helping people stitch together their own masks.

Yet as Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekly podcast: “Even if you decide to wear a simple face mask, please remember that it can never replace keeping your distance.

“As long as there is no vaccine or medication against the virus, maintaining a distance is the most effective protection.”

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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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