Germany to offer free coronavirus tests to returning travellers

Germany will offer free coronavirus tests to all returning travellers in new measures agreed Friday, as concerns grow over a surge due to summer travel.

Germany to offer free coronavirus tests to returning travellers
A mask dispenser at Stuttgart's airport. Photo: DPA

“Those returning from risk countries should be tested, and those returning from non-risk countries will also have the option,” said Berlin health minister Dilek Kalayci after the measures were agreed by the health ministers of Germany's 16 states.

She said the tests would initially be non-mandatory and the cost would be covered by the state in all cases.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travelling from Germany to other European countries

The new measures will see test facilities installed at airports across the country so that those returning from risk zones can be tested directly on arrival.

Those who refuse a test or test positive on arrival will be forced to quarantine at home for 14 days.

Frankfurt, Germany's largest airport, had already been offering tests for a fee, as have airports in Cologne/Bonn and Munich.

Berlin's city government has meanwhile announced that it plans to introduce airport tests from next week.

READ ALSO: How to get tested for coronavirus at Germany's airports

Those returning from non-risk countries would not be tested at the airport, but could receive a free test from their local health authority, said Kalayci.

Germany's public health institute RKI currently considers 130 nations worldwide to be “risk countries”, with EU and Schengen area neighbours among the exceptions.

The new measures come amid growing fears that a rise in summer tourism could lead to a surge in coronavirus cases in Germany, which has fared relatively well in the crisis so far.

This week, the eastern city of Cottbus recorded its first new cases in three months after a family of four tested positive after returning from holiday to Mallorca.

Traditionally a popular destination for German tourists, Mallorca has recently tightened its coronavirus regulations after a rise in the number of cases.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn has repeatedly warned against allowing Mallorca to become a “second Ischgl”, in reference to the Austrian ski resort which became one of Europe's coronavirus hotspots early in the pandemic.

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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.