Coronavirus: A taste of normality as first restaurants reopen in Germany

The waiters may be wearing masks, but diners in one German state still got a taste of normal life at the weekend as restaurants there became the first to reopen after weeks of coronavirus restrictions.

Coronavirus: A taste of normality as first restaurants reopen in Germany

Many locals in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania took advantage of the looser rules and sunny weather to flock to their favourite eateries and cafes for the first time since mid-March.

For the hospitality sector, the restart hasn't come a moment too soon.

“Economically, it has been a disaster for us,” said Thomas Hildebrand, manager of Cafe Prag in the state's picturesque capital of Schwerin.

The northeastern state on the Baltic coast has Germany's lowest coronavirus infection numbers, emboldening the local government to relax many lockdown measures.

While Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania was the first to take the plunge, restaurants, cafes and hotels are set to reopen across Germany in the coming days and weeks as the spread of the virus slows. But dining experiences will be different in the age of corona.

“Our employees must wear masks and our customers must respect social distancing,” Hildebrand told AFP, his own mask hanging around his neck.

Staff are also following other hygiene rules “such as disinfecting tables, no common usage of certain utensils”, he said.

“We're trying to put this in place, it's new for us. But we are happy to be able to reopen.”

Under Germany's federal system, each of its 16 states makes its own decisions on how to emerge from lockdown. Chancellor Angela Merkel last week said Germany had passed “the very first phase of the pandemic”, allowing for a gradual return to normality.

Most shops are already open again, and children are slowly returning to classrooms. Even Bundesliga football matches are set to resume.

'Too fast' 

In Ruderhaus restaurant in Schwerin, staff in black masks took orders from customers seated on a waterside terrace with a view of a medieval castle.

Robert, 38, said he was happy he could enjoy an outdoor meal on a balmy Saturday, but admitted he was concerned about the speed at which Germany was easing the confinement measures.

“For me, this de-confinement is going too fast. We should have waited another two or three weeks.” His dining companion Anna, 33, was more relaxed.

“Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is a very large state and everything is far away. Personally, I am not afraid of catching the virus.”

Many experts have cautioned that moving too quickly could lead to a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Aware of the risks, German authorities have agreed to reimpose restrictions locally if an area has more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over a week. Three districts have already breached the threshold in recent days.

Member comments

  1. A good piece but, to the best of my knowledge, no medieval castle is in Schwerin. The Romantic Schloß Schwerin is 19th century.

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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.