Germany orders first local lockdown after new coronavirus outbreak

Authorities on Tuesday ordered a new lockdown for an entire district in western Germany – the first since easing coronavirus restrictions and a major setback to hopes of a swift return to normality.

Germany orders first local lockdown after new coronavirus outbreak
Tönnies meat factory. Photo: DPA

“For the first time in Germany, we will return an entire district to the measures that applied several weeks ago,” Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, said.

The new measures are being imposed on the entire district of Gütersloh, in North-Rhine-Westphalia. They will affect the 360,000 people living there and will be in place until at least June 30th.

READ ALSO: Explained – What you need to know about Germany's new local coronavirus lockdown

More than 1,500 workers out of a total of nearly 7,000 have tested positive for Covid-19 at the slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrück run by Tönnies.

All workers are currently in quarantine. However, authorities are now turning to tougher rules to try and control the spread of coronavirus.

“It is a preventative measure,” Laschet added.

The new lockdown means a return to measures first introduced in March, with cinemas, museums, concert halls, bars, gyms, swimming pools and saunas shut down, Laschet said. However, restaurants can remain open with rules in place.

Schools and Kitas were already closed last week in a bid to control the virus.

READ ALSO: Germany fights to control coronavirus outbreak at meat plant

The outbreak in Germany's most populous state is the biggest since the country began lifting the lockdown in early May.

Several outbreaks at slaughterhouses, not just in Germany but also in France, have put a spotlight on the working and housing conditions facing the workers — many of whom come from Romania or Bulgaria.

But Germany has also seen new coronavirus clusters in residential buildings in Lower Saxony and Berlin, where 370 families living in high-rise flats were placed under quarantine in one neighbourhood last week.

READ ALSO: Germany's coronavirus number rockets above 2. What does that mean?

The localised outbreaks have caused Germany's reproduction number, which shows how many people with coronavirus go on to infect others, to shoot up.

As of June 22nd, the Robert Koch Institute reported the R number to be 2.76, which means a person with coronaviurs goes on to infect more than two other people. Authorities have said the number should be below 1 to control the spread.

Experts say the number of overall cases in Germany remains at a manageable level. However, the situation is being monitored and measures, such as quarantine orders and lockdowns, will be imposed when needed.

Overall the RKI reported 190,350 confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began (as of June 22nd – the latest figures available), an increase of about 530 from the day before.

At the peak of the pandemic Germany was recording more than 6,000 new cases a day. Around 8,800 people have died in Germany.

With new infection rates sharply down from highs in March and a death toll significantly lower than those of its neighbours, Germany became the first major EU country to begin easing virus restrictions about seven weeks ago.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned against complacency before a viable vaccine is found.


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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.