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INFECTION

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate drops below critical value of 1

Germany's coronavirus reproduction rate has dipped below the critical threshold of 1 after three days above this number.

Germany's coronavirus infection rate drops below critical value of 1
A sign urging people to keep 1.5 metre distance in Schillig, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Late on Tuesday May 12th, the Robert Koch Institute for public health and disease control announced in its daily report that the so-called R rate or estimated reproduction number was sitting at 0.94 in Germany.

That means on average a person with coronavirus infects less than one other person. The report went on to say that a “renewed upward trend” is not expected in Germany.

The RKI added that the overall number of cases in Germany was going down. However, there were still clusters of new cases, such as those reported at slaughterhouses, that would have an impact on the R value.

On Monday the RKI had registered an R number of 1.07 and on Sunday it was at 1.1, meaning 10 people with Covid-19 would have infected on average 11 others.

The RKI has warned that for the infection rate to be deemed under control and slowing down, the number has to stay below one. Just last Wednesday, as Germany announced easing of restrictions, the number stood at 0.65.

READ ALSO:

The rising reproduction number had caused alarm, particularly after Chancellor Angela Merkel declared recently that Germany had left the “first phase” of the pandemic behind it and federal states announced relaxations of social restrictions.

READ ALSO: 'First phase of coronavirus pandemic behind us,' says Merkel

As of Wednesday May 13th, a total of 173,171 coronavirus infections had been registered in Germany, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. Of those cases, there have been around 7,738 deaths and 147,298 people have recovered.

Coronavirus 'not gone'

Earlier on Tuesday, RKI Vice President Lars Schaade said coronavirus “is not gone,” but the risk of infection is significantly lower than a few weeks ago.

The reason, he said, was that the number of daily new infections was not decreasing but rather approaching a plateau. It is therefore all the more important to continue to observe the rules of hygiene, Schaade explained.

However, the risk is significantly lower than four weeks ago, he added.

In the meantime, clusters of large outbreaks, such as the recent cases in slaughterhouses, have had a greater effect on the value than in the case of higher infection numbers overall, explained Schaade. 

“We can estimate that these recent outbreaks have increased reproductive numbers,” he said. If the outbreaks are under control, the R value could drop again. 

In the long term, the R number should not remain significantly above 1 – otherwise the number of cases would increase. 

Schaade said that values of 1.2 or 1.3 over a longer period of time would require very close attention and action on how the situation could be counteracted.

In future, the RKI will also provide a so-called “smoothed out R-value”, which would better balance out fluctuations. This would be suited to depict longer-term trends. 

“Last week, this stable R-value was not above 1 on any day”, Schaade stressed.

READ ALSO: German towns to reimpose shutdowns over coronavirus clusters

'Stay at home'

In the past week, between 700 and 1,300 new corona infections per day were reported to the RKI, and on Monday almost 1,000 cases were reported. 

“The numbers remain roughly comparable to last week's figures,” he said. Lower numbers on weekends are considered normal, for example due to delays in reporting by health authorities and closed doctors' offices.

The R value reflects the infection rate from about one and a half weeks earlier. The value of 1.07 reported on Monday, for example, reflects the situation in the period from April 28th to May 3rd.

The new cases from the past three days are not included in the estimate, because they are not reliable at this stage and can result in fluctuations. The R value is also only one of several ways of measuring the epidemic situation, Schaade said.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED – Germany's plan for post-lockdown life with coronavirus

To help keep the virus at bay, among other things Schaade said it is important for people in Germany to stay at home as much as possible, limit contacts and keep a distance to other people.

Despite the current low number of new infections in some regions, the number of undetected cases should not be ignored, Schaade said. 

People who don't know they have the virus could cause the situation to flare up again if they don't stick to rules, he said.

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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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