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Germany switches to Google and Apple on virus tracing app over privacy concerns

The German government has switched to backing a coronavirus-tracing app using technology supported by Google and Apple, ditching a German-led alternative that had come under fire over privacy concerns.

Germany switches to Google and Apple on virus tracing app over privacy concerns
Photo: DPA
German Health Minister Jens Spahn and Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun said the government was now in favour of a “decentralised software architecture” that would see user data stored on people's own phones instead of on a central database.
 
“Our goal is for the tracing app to be ready for use very soon and with strong acceptance from the public and civil society,” Spahn and Braun said in a joint statement.
 
The rollout of an app that would use bluetooth to alert smartphone users when they have been in contact with someone infected with the virus is considered crucial in the fight against the pandemic as countries like Germany relax their lockdowns.
 
 
The government had until thrown its weight behind a pan-European app known as PEPP-PT being developed by some 130 European scientists, including experts from Germany's Fraunhofer research institute and Robert Koch Institute public health body.
 
But the proposed app had faced growing criticism over its plan to store data on a central server.
 
 
Critics said it would allow governments to hoover up personal information and could lead to mass state surveillance.
 
In an open letter earlier this week, some 300 leading academics urged governments to dismiss the centralised approach, saying it risked undermining public trust.
 
 
They said an approach being developed by Apple and Google, whose operating systems run most of the world's smartphones, was more privacy friendly.
 
The tech giants plan to collaborate with apps, like the Swiss-led DP-3T, that use a decentralised system, which would see data stored on individual devices.
 
The European Commission has also recommended that data harvested through coronavirus contact-tracing apps should be stored only on users' own phones and be encrypted.
 
The German government has repeatedly stressed that the use of any coronavirus app would be voluntary and anonymous, in a country still haunted by the spying of the Nazi era and the former East German secret police.

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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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