Is it safe to go swimming in Germany this summer?

Most outdoor pools, as well as some lakes, are opening to the public by the end of the month around Germany. But just how safe is it to go for a swim?

Is it safe to go swimming in Germany this summer?
An archive photo from 2018 shows bathers in a 'Badesee' in Zaberfeld, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Most swimming pools and lakes will be heavily regulated, meaning that only a handful of people will be allowed in the water or changing areas at the same time. 

German experts weigh in on the situation for summer swimmers, whether you’re planning on cooling off in one of Germany’s many lakes or swimming laps in a Freibad (open-air pool) or Sommerbad (open-air bathing area).

READ ALSO: How and when are Germany's gyms reopening after the coronavirus shutdown?

Rumour: Due to the threat of infection from coronavirus, swimming in open-air pools, lakes and seas is too dangerous.

General evaluation: Swimming in itself is not problematic. But visitors to beach or open-air pools must observe the rules of distance (at least 1.5 metres space between people)

While most swimming pools are treated with chlorine, larger swimming areas often lack chemical treatment, which could carry some risks. 

Facts: If you go to the swimming pool, the lake or the sea, you should also be careful outside the water. A virologist's nightmare is a mass of near-touching towels with people sunbathing on them. 

READ ALSO: Germany's top 10 most beautiful summer swimming spots

Yet there is little cause for concern when it comes to chlorine-disinfected bathing water in indoor and outdoor pools. 

In these, the virus is “reliably inactivated”, Christian Ochsenbauer, managing director of the German Society for Swimming, told DPA.

Yet bathing ponds – or small lakes (Badeseen) – use a biological treatment rather than chlorine. 

According to Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA), they do not contain any disinfectants, so they carry a certain risk of infection, which they advise is pointed out to bathers on site.

A 'Freibad' or open-air pool in Ochtrup, North Rhine-Westphalia, which is expected to open its doors to swimmers on May 20th. Photo: DPA

Coronavirus is also detectable in wastewater that has not yet been treated, explained Janne Vehreschild, who heads a working group on the risk factors for Covid-19 at the German Centre for Infection Research.

“However, it is not yet clear whether these amounts are sufficient for an infection,” said Vehreschild.

But going for a swim or dip in larger natural waterways such as the North and Baltic Seas is harmless, according to the UBA.

The risk of infection is extremely low due to dilution in water: “Rising water temperatures and increased solar radiation in summer will cause an even greater inactivation of viruses that may have been introduced into the water,” they said in a statement. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has found no evidence that the coronavirus is transmitted via any waterway.

As a matter of principle, however, people with respiratory tract infections should avoid swimming or bathing in order not to endanger others, warned the UBA. 

“This applies regardless of the potential pathogens involved,” they said.


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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.