German towns to reimpose shutdowns over coronavirus clusters

Local authorities in Germany on Friday said they would reimpose some lockdown measures after seeing a cluster of new coronavirus infections, just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a gradual reopening of the country.

German towns to reimpose shutdowns over coronavirus clusters
Photo: DPA

In Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the regional government said there had been a spike in cases at a slaughterhouse in the district of Coesfeld, where over 150 of the 1,200 employees tested positive for the virus.

Local officials said the outbreak meant the district would be forced to postpone by one week the planned May 11 reopening of restaurants, tourist spots, fitness studios and larger shops, while residents would have to continue limiting their social contacts.

READ ALSO: Germany shuns Trump's claims Covid-19 outbreak was caused by Chinese lab leak

The step-by-step reopening of schools and daycare centres will go ahead as scheduled.

It marks the first setback since Merkel on Wednesday announced that Germany's slowing infection rate and relatively low mortality rate meant the country had weathered the “first phase of the pandemic” and could cautiously return to normal.

The decisions on relaxing restrictions are in the hands of Germany's 16 federal states however, who have agreed to reimpose curbs if the number of new cases hits 50 per 100,000 people over seven days.

North Rhine-Westphalia's health minister Karl-Josef Laumann said the barrier had been breached in Coesfeld, where the slaughterhouse cluster pushed the infection rate up to “61 per 100,000 residents”.

He ordered the temporary closure of the slaughterhouse and said employees at all of the state's meat processing plants would now undergo testing for the novel coronavirus. In the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, an outbreak also at a slaughterhouse pushed the district of Steinburg over the infection threshold.

It was not immediately clear what action the authorities would take and whether they would pull what German media have dubbed “the emergency brake”.

In the eastern state of Thuringia, the district of Greiz recorded more than 80 infections per 100,000 people over the past week, mainly among residents and employees of six care homes and a geriatrics hospital.

The Thuringia government plans to hold crisis talks early next week on how to proceed with the planned loosening of the stay-at-home measures in the hotspot.

“To be clear: we're not going to put the entire district in quarantine,” said Martina Schweinsburg, the chief administrator in the district of Greiz, stressing that just two small towns were particularly affected.

Germany has so far recorded 167,300 coronavirus cases nationwide and 7,266 deaths, the Robert Koch Institute for public health said Friday. 

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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.