‘Unacceptable’: Possible Merkel successor under fire over eastern European coronavirus claims

A leading candidate to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked a row Friday after he accused eastern Europeans of importing new coronavirus cases to Germany.

'Unacceptable': Possible Merkel successor under fire over eastern European coronavirus claims
Armin Laschet on June 17th. Photo: DPA

Armin Laschet is the premier of Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where more than 700 people have tested positive for COVID-19 after an outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the Gütersloh district.

Asked on Wednesday what the new outbreak says about the lifting of restrictions to dampen transmission in the state, Laschet replied: “It says nothing at all about that, because Romanians and Bulgarians went in there and that is where the virus comes from.”

He later attempted to back track on the comments, telling the Rheinische Post that he was merely highlighting the risks of international travel and it was unacceptable “to blame people of any origin for the virus”.

Critics have rounded on Laschet, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who was visiting Sofia on Thursday, calling them “highly dangerous” and demanding an apology.

Maas' Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva also called the comments “unacceptable”.

“The virus doesn't know borders. Bulgarians contribute a lot to the economy of North Rhine-Westphalia,” she said.

For Lars Klingbeil, general secretary of the Social Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel's coalition government, the comments were “scandalous” and should put a lid of Laschet's political ambitions.

“Anyone who argues in this way, who stirs up resentment in this way, who divides, is not fit to run for chancellor — and certainly not fit to be chancellor,” he told Bild Live.

Merkel's conservative CDU party is set to elect a new leader at the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: From 'avenger' to 'anti-Merkel': Who could be Germany's next chancellor?

Laschet is a prime candidate, having thrown his hat in the ring when the chancellor's hand-picked successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stepped down earlier this year.

Running against him for the CDU top job is corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz.

The winner would in turn be well placed to lead Merkel's centre-right CDU-CSU bloc into general elections in autumn next year.

But another challenge for the chancellor's post could still come from the CDU's Bavarian sister party CSU, whose leader Markus Söder is seen as a hopeful.

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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.