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GOVERNMENT

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany’s new coronavirus ‘pandemic law’

More support, extra testing and bonuses for some care workers – but 'immunity passports' off the table: the Bundestag has passed a second package of measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Here's an overview.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany’s new coronavirus ‘pandemic law’
A visitor wearing a face mask walks past the reception area of the new corona treatment centre in Berlin on May 11th. Photo: DPA

What's happening?

Germany has been passing measures to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the country. 

This law, which has the snappy title of “Second law to protect the population in the event of an epidemic situation of national importance” (“Zweites Gesetz zum Schutz der Bevölkerung bei einer epidemischen Lage von nationaler Tragweite”) was approved by the Bundestag on Thursday May 13th.

It will go through the Bundesrat likely this week, before it comes into force soon after.

German media has dubbed it the the “New Infection Protection Act”, “Pandemic Law” and “Epidemic Protection Act”, reported the Tagesschau. It includes amendments to various existing laws and regulations to help improve Germany's response to the pandemic.

Here’s an overview:

More support for people hit by the crisis

Anyone who has to go into short-time work (Kurzarbeit) or loses their job because of the pandemic will receive more support in future.

The Bundestag approved the Social Package II (das Sozialpaket II) which means Kurzarbeit allowance will be increased from the current 60 percent of a person's last wage to 70 percent as of the fourth month. From the seventh month, the rate will rise to 80 percent.

For parents, the benefit increases from 67 to 77 or 87 percent. This rule applies until the end of the year. Those on Kurzarbeit are also allowed to earn additional money from May 1st until the end of the year.

People whose unemployment benefits are due to run out in the period from May 1st 2020 to December 31st 2020, are now able to receive a one-off three-month extension of the benefit.

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

More tests – even on people with no symptoms

Germany is to expand and increase the amount of testing carried out for coronavirus, particularly in nursing homes and hospitals.

And testing will be used as a preventative measure in future. That means that even people without symptoms will be tested if they think they have the virus or have come into contact with someone who has it.

It is hoped that this will enable authorities to stop chains of infection and stall the virus from spreading.

Statutory health insurance organisations will also have to pay for coronavirus tests – even if the patient getting the test has no symptoms.

Bonus for carers

Employees who work in nursing care for the elderly are to receive a bonus of up to €1,000 this year for their efforts in the coronavirus crisis.

States or employers can increase the bonus to up to €1,500, which would remain tax-free. Several countries have already announced it.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said the total cost of payouts could amount to around €1 billion.

The reason for the payment is that during the pandemic, staff in nursing homes will be exposed to particular physical and psychological stress and an increased risk of contracting Covid-19 themselves, according to the law.

Critics, however, say there should be a permanent increase in the salaries of nursing and care staff.

The Green Party is also calling for the planned bonuses to be “extended to other professional groups in health care facilities that carry a higher risk”.

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

An old person's home in Heinsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Increased reporting

In order to get a better picture of the situation, laboratories and doctors will in future have to report to the health authorities not only suspected cases of infection, confirmed cases and deaths – but also negative test results and recovered cases.

The reporting system will also include information on where someone is likely to have contracted the disease. The data will be transmitted anonymously to the Robert Koch Institute. In this way the government wants to gain a better overview of the development of the pandemic.

Money for health sector

The government wants to provide a €50 million cash injection to Germany's 375 health care authorities so they can upgrade technology and equipment.

There's been repeated criticism recently that the authorities still send some of their coronavirus figures by fax – and that there is a need for a digital upgrade. In addition, a permanent contact point for the public health service will be established at the Robert Koch Institute.

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

More supplies for flu vaccination

The government wants to ensure that more people are vaccinated against flu so that the healthcare system is not burdened by another wave of influenza in the next winter season.

So far, health insurance companies are only covering the costs of a limited amount of flu vaccine stocks. In future, doctors will be able to order more flu vaccines without having to fear recourse claims from the health insurance companies.

Relief for privately insured people

The government wants to ensure that people in Germany with private health insurance, who become temporarily in need of assistance in the coronavirus crisis and switch to the basic tariff, can later return to their original tariff – without getting a health check that's usually required as a prerequisite. 

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

Immunity passport off the table for the time being

In the bill approved by the cabinet at the end of April, there were still plans to issue a so-called 'immunity passport' to all those who previously had coronavirus and have recovered. However, the prerequisite for this is that immunity after infection has been scientifically proven – which is not yet the case.

Those against the idea say that a document could create a false sense of security. Another concern was that people could deliberately try to get infected in order to gain immunity, which could be dangerous for them and others. For this reason, the concept was removed from the current draft law.

However, Health Minister Spahn has submitted the idea of such a proof of immunity to the German Ethics Council for consultation.
 

Member comments

  1. Is the 1.5-2m social distancing in public places enforcable and how? I ask because I’ve found myself in two instances today where I’ve had to say, “Abstanden bitte”, only to be ignored. One instance resulted in an exchange of loud words. It seems a battle of who considers themselves and their behaviour most important rather than a sense of community and coopertation now compared to two months ago.

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CULTURE

‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.

READ ALSO: 

Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music

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