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HEALTH

Germany recommends face masks in shops and public transport

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that masks should be worn on public transport and in shops as Germany cautiously begins to ease curbs imposed to halt contagion of the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany recommends face masks in shops and public transport
To contain the coronavirus, visitors to Dresden's largest weekly market were only allowed to enter the area with a face mask. Photo: DPA

“It is recommended that masks be used in public transport and while  shopping,” Merkel told journalists after talks with regional leaders from Germany's 16 states.

According to Germany's Ministry of Health, wearing even a simple face mask could shield others from infection, especially as some people with coronavirus are not aware that they have the disease. 

READ ALSO: 'Highly likely' that Bavaria will introduce face masks, says Bavarian state premier

Special masks such as the FFP2, which also protect the wearer, should be reserved for medical personnel, they said.

Minister of Economic Affairs, Peter Altmaier (CDU), recently stated that billions of masks – both for everyday use and medical personnel – are in demand within the country.

Yet supplies of especially high-quality masks are difficult to obtain due to a high demand worldwide. 

Since the early afternoon, Merkel and state premieres have been discussing a roadmap that lays out which strict anti-corona measures such as school closures and contact restrictions can be gradually eased again.

READ ALSO: Germany set to extend coronavirus restrictions until early May

Making masks available

Markus Söder (CSU), state premier 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

According to consumer advocates, compulsory masks to combat the coronavirus should only be introduced if sufficient protective masks are available.

“If a mask is made mandatory for certain areas of life, they should also be in supply” Kai Vogel, health expert of the Federal Association of Consumer Centres (VZBV), told the Tagesspiegel on Wednesday.

“Politicians must ensure that protective masks are available nationwide before any easing of restrictions in public life takes place – and that personal protection is one of the conditions for such easing,” Vogel said. 

Under no circumstances, however, should protective clothing be removed from other areas, such as the health and care sector, he added.

Federal Government Commissioner for the Disabled, Jürgen Dusel, advocated equipping certain risk groups with professional protective masks.

People who are particularly at risk of infection should be provided with appropriate FFP2 protective masks as soon as possible, “so that they can move freely in public spaces as required and, for example, go shopping or to work,” he said on Wednesday.

Many pharmacies around Germany, such as this one in Dortmund on March 21st, have signs that face masks and disinfectants are sold out. Photo: DPA

'Boost public life step by step'

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s state premier Manuela Schwesig (SPD) has also spoken out in favour of a general obligation to wear masks if corona measures are relaxed. 

“We will only be able to boost public life step by step. And we need additional measures such as face masks for everyone,” Schwesig told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Considering that professional FFP2 masks are already in short supply for health care personnel, virologists like Christian Drosten also recommend cloths to cover mouth and nose. 

In some cities in Germany where masks are already mandatory in public places – such as the eastern city of Jena – scarves and shawls are considered adequate protection for the mouth and nose.

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

With reporting from AFP.

Vocabulary

Obligation – (die) Pflicht

Supplies – (der) Nachschub

need/demand – (der) Bedarf

Availability – (die) Verfügbarkeit

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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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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