Germany to make Covid-19 tests mandatory for travellers from risk areas

Germany will make coronavirus tests mandatory for travellers returning from risk areas, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Monday, as fears rise that summer travel could spark a new surge in infections.

Germany to make Covid-19 tests mandatory for travellers from risk areas
Health Minister Jens Spahn. Photo: DPA

Spahn said that he would “order compulsory testing for travellers returning from risk areas” in a bid to stall the spread of the virus in Germany, as concerns grow over a surge due to summer travel.

This would serve to protect all citizens, he said. “We must prevent travel returnees from infecting others unnoticed and thus triggering new chains of infection,” said the politician who's a member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

The tests are to be free of charge for travellers.

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

Spahn announced the plans to his counterparts from the federal states in a conference. According to the proposals, the testing obligation is based on a rule under the Protection against Infection Law. It refers to an 'epidemic situation of national importance', which the Bundestag had determined for coronavirus.

It means the Federal Ministry can make sure people who enter Germany after being exposed to an increased risk of infection can be ordered to undergo a medical examination. The corresponding regulation is expected to come into force next week.

Several federal states had previously spoken out in favour of a compulsory test for returning travellers.

On Friday, Germany announced it would offer free coronavirus tests to all returning travellers and had been considering if it would make them mandatory for people coming back from areas deemed high risk.

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

Amid the deliberations over summer travel, some 500 workers have been sent into quarantine on a large Bavarian farm in order to contain a mass coronavirus outbreak.

READ ALSO: 'The situation is worrying': Germany sees rise in coronavirus infections

At least 174 seasonal workers have tested positive for the virus on the farm in the municipality of Mamming, most of them from Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Bavaria has upped its testing of returning holidaymakers, with test sites set to be erected at some border crossings, train stations and motorways.

Germany has fared better than many of its neighbours in suppressing the virus, reporting just over 200,000 cases and around 9,100 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.

READ ALSO: Germany mulls compulsory coronavirus test for returning travellers

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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.