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HEALTH

Merkel to face resistance at key meeting on coronavirus restrictions

Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a test of her authority on Wednesday as she meets Germany's 16 state premiers, many of whom have brazenly ignored her pleas for caution on easing coronavirus restrictions.

Merkel to face resistance at key meeting on coronavirus restrictions
Merkel speaking at a video conference with state premieres on April 30th. Photo: DPA

Germany began tentatively lifting its lockdown two weeks ago, opening some shops and schools, after infection rates came down.

Merkel and the state leaders agreed last week to loosen the rules further, giving religious institutions, playgrounds, museums and zoos the green light to open.

But a national consensus on aligning measures to counter the virus — which was coupled with a sharp rise in Merkel's popularity — appears to have crumbled, as many states have struck out alone to further ease lockdown rules.

'Return to normality'

Germany is eyeing an almost complete return to normality in May, with plans to send all pupils back to school and to restart the top-flight football Bundesliga, according to a draft agreement seen by AFP Wednesday.

Only the cultural sector would have to wait, as large events are still cancelled until the end of August. Borders also remain closed.

READ ALSO: Germany set to reopen all shops and schools in May

But on the eve of her discussions with regional leaders, Germany's biggest state Bavaria preempted federal measures by announcing that its restaurants would open from May 18th and hotels and guest houses from May 30th.

State premier Markus Söder said “the time has come for a cautious reopening”, pointing to the “success” in containing the spread of the virus.

Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt have also announced their own plans for everything from restaurants to care homes.

A sign at a restaurant in Cuxhaven, Lower Saxony, stating that a restaurant will open on May 27th. Photo: DPA

Merkel has repeatedly urged Germany's states to proceed with caution when it comes to easing lockdown measures, even as Europe's top economy flounders.

“It remains absolutely important that we stay disciplined,” she said after last week's relaxing of measures, adding that the effects of the new rules would be watched carefully.

READ ALSO: Snubbing Merkel pleas, German states ease coronavirus curbs further

The restrictions — but also greater testing capacities — have seen Germany keep its death rate far lower than that of its European neighbours.

Although Germany has recorded over 160,000 coronavirus cases, it has one of
the lowest mortality rates in the world — just over 6,800 people have died.

'Resistance 2020'

But although Merkel's conservative approach won her a rise in support in the early stages of the pandemic, the complaints have grown louder in recent
weeks.

North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet, who has criticised Merkel's firmer stance on restrictions, told public broadcaster ARD in late April that the negative effects of lockdown must be “weighed up”.

He attacked what he said were the pessimistic predictions of some medical experts, pointing out that “40 percent of intensive care beds are empty” in his state.

Demonstrations against the lockdown were held in several German cities last weekend, and a new political movement calling itself Widerstand 2020 (Resistance 2020) claims on its website to have more than 100,000 members.

The far-right AfD, Germany's largest opposition party by number of MPs, has also attacked the lockdown measures.

But experts continue to call for restraint. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control has repeatedly warned of possible second or even third waves of the virus hitting the country.

At a briefing on Tuesday, RKI head Lothar Wieler urged vigilance.

“Social distancing is certainly the new normal and will help to ensure that the infection rate remains low,” he said.

“If we ease restrictions, this will of course increase the risk of new infections.”

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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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