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Bavarian farm locked down after 174 workers contract coronavirus

Some 500 workers are in quarantine on a large Bavarian farm to contain a mass coronavirus outbreak, German officials said Sunday, as they announced free COVID-19 tests for worried local residents.

Bavarian farm locked down after 174 workers contract coronavirus
A security guard walks past a building housing farm workers in Mamming on Monday. Photo: DPA

A total of 174 seasonal workers have tested positive for the virus since Friday, Werner Bumeder, the district administrator of Dingolfing-Landau, told a press conference.

Most of the seasonal employees come from Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, he said, and had been working in close proximity harvesting cucumbers at the farm in the municipality of Mamming.

On Monday, Bavarian health minister Melanie Huml (CSU) said that locals in Mamming would be able to access free testing in a tent which had been set up for them. 

“Especially in a situation like this, it's very important to offer this to the population here,” she said. 

Yet Bumeder stressed that the cluster appeared to be limited to “a closed group of people” and had not yet spread to the wider population.

READ ALSO: German slaughterhouse to continue operating after coronavirus outbreak

The farm's 480 employees and managers are all in lockdown on-site, with those who have tested negative staying in separate accommodation from those known to be infected.

The farm itself has been closed off from the outside world with a security team monitoring the quarantine.

Bumeder said the outbreak showed that the farm “did not consistently implement” hygiene regulations aimed at preventing the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

One of the infected employees has had to be hospitalised.

Mass testing

Huml said authorities were taking the outbreak “very seriously” and were racing to track down anyone who came into contact with the workers in order to break the chain of infection.

She said health officials would soon begin mass testing at other agricultural businesses in the region.

Residents of Manning who wished to get tested will be able to do so for free, she added, stressing that this could be particularly important for anyone planning to go away on vacation.

Germany has fared better than many of its neighbours in suppressing the virus, reporting just over 200,000 cases and 9,118 deaths to date, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

But the country has also been hit by repeated coronavirus outbreaks at slaughterhouses, keeping authorities on high alert.

Summer travel is another cause for concern, prompting Germany to announce free tests for holidaymakers returning from abroad.

READ ALSO: Germany to offer free coronavirus tests to returning travellers

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HEALTH

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. 

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