More tests to flu shots: How Germany plans to improve its coronavirus response

More tests, more support for employees, more precautions ahead of the next flu season: Germany wants to introduce further aid measures this Wednesday to cushion the consequences of the coronavirus crisis.

More tests to flu shots: How Germany plans to improve its coronavirus response
Jens Spahn (CDU) discussing the proposed health measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Several government ministries are introducing plans to soften the health and economic impact caused by coronavirus. A proposed package prepared by Health Minister Jens Spahn from Angela Merkel's centre-right conservatives (CDU) calls for more comprehensive reporting obligations for doctors and laboratories.

On the financial front, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) wants to implement a package of crisis measures, including a temporary increase in short-time work benefits (Kurzarbeit) for longer-term employment.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany – who will receive financial help, and how much?

Here’s an overview of some of the top proposals which are expected to be given the green light on Wednesday.

Testing: Laboratories all over Germany have been evaluating hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests over several weeks, or around 500,000 a week.

Now Spahn is calling for even more widespread testing, which will be paid for by Germany’s public health insurance funds. Part of the plan includes mass screenings for nursing staff and people in need of care.

READ ALSO: '200,000 tests a day': Germany pushes to expand coronavirus testing

Duty notifications: Laboratories and physicians will not only be required to report suspected cases, confirmed cases and deaths related to Covid-19 to health authorities, but also negative test results and cases of recoveries.

Right now the latter two are calculated largely just through self-reporting, but not an official tally. The aim is to gain a better overview of the development of the epidemic.

Photo: DPA

Care: The government wants to divvy up the costs of a coronavirus bonus for nursing staff of up to 1,500: one-third is to be paid by the states and employers, two-thirds by the nursing insurance funds (Pflegekassen).

Flu prevention: For the upcoming flu season in the winter of 2020/2021, the government is planning for a larger reserve of vaccines for the common influenza.

“To care for many flu and corona patients at the same time could overtax our health system,” Spahn told the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” on Wednesday.

For the first time, the federal government is also directly purchasing an additional 4.5 million doses of influenza vaccine.

Employees: Labour Minister Heil will present a package of laws to help employees in the crisis. Among other things, according to a resolution of the coalition leaders, the short-time work (Kurzarbeit) allowance is slated to be increased for longer periods of time, and to up to 80 percent of the last net wage. For people with children, that figure rises up to 87 percent. 

So far, the figure is 60 and 67 percent, respectively. Unemployment benefits are also to be made available for much longer.

READ ALSO: Kurzarbeit: Germany bets on tried-and-tested tool in coronavirus jobs crisis


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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.