Coronavirus pandemic has ‘pulled Germans closer together’

Many people in Germany feel they have become closer through the pandemic, a new study has found.

Coronavirus pandemic has 'pulled Germans closer together'
People walking in Cologne in April. Photo: DPA

The survey conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the research institute Infas found the population's cohesion has increased significantly in recent months.

While 46 percent of people in February still considered cohesion in this country to be at risk, this proportion fell to 36 percent in May and June, according to the study.

At the same time, more Germans feel people have been looking out for each other – that is despite the distance rules and contact bans which were put in place to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Whereas in February 41 percent said that citizens did not care about others, this figure had fallen to only 19 percent by early summer. Trust in the federal government also increased: from 19 to 45 percent; while satisfaction with democracy rose from about 50 to 60 percent.

The results are based on surveys that were conducted in two waves in February and March as well as May and June as part of the long-term study called “Radar Social Cohesion”.

The study has been showing how social cohesion is perceived since 2012. In comparison with the most recent study in 2017, cohesion in Germany is stable. “Even though many citizens are worried about social cohesion, it remains robust overall,” said study author Kai Unzicker.

In the first wave, more than 3,000 people were interviewed, with the researchers differentiating between interviews before March 3rd and after, because coronavirus restrictions began to come into play then.

In May and June, 1,000 people were interviewed again. And it turned out that most of those surveyed said cohesion had improved after more than two months of the crisis.

“In a crisis situation, many have experienced real solidarity in the form of neighbourhood help with shopping or childcare,” said study author Unzicker.

READ ALSO: Germany sees highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases since May

Some groups feel less cohesion

But this narrative doesn't apply to everyone. While the pandemic left hardly anyone untouched, there are groups who are more concerned and feel less social cohesion. These include poorer and less well educated people, single parents and people with a migration background.

“Someone who is well educated and has a high income has the opportunity to do home office (work from home),” said Unzicker. “People with less education and on a lower income, on the other hand, are more likely to be put on reduced working hours (Kurzarbeit) and lose their jobs, and this is where fears rise.”

READ ALSO: Why some single mums feel invisible in Germany's coronavirus crisis

Unsurprisingly, those who already knew a high level of cohesion before the crisis felt less lonely in recent months – and had fewer worries about their own future or that of their family.

According to Unzicker, politicians should therefore pay more attention to particularly affected groups. Those who feel little cohesion and do not have stable social infrastructure should be the focus.

“It is about more support in the districts in order to be able to react locally to the adversities of life for these people,” he said. 

If, for example, the situation with childcare or schools does not improve significantly in the foreseeable future, the researchers believe those who are disadvantaged will suffer further.

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a second lockdown amid rise in coronavirus cases?

People less worried about economic decline

Surprisingly the fear of economic decline has also fallen compared to the initial phase of the pandemic in Germany, the study found.

While in February more than half of those surveyed were still worried about being or becoming poorer themselves, this figure had fallen to 47 percent by early summer.

Fear of unemployment has also decreased significantly, from 44 percent to 31 percent. People in Germany are also slightly less worried about an economic and financial crisis (63 instead of 68 percent).

Unzicker also said this change of mood reflects the fact that coronavirus restrictions have been eased, and there's some relief that Germany has got through the crisis. 

The question is: can this positive outlook remain in view of the rising number of infections?


Cohesion – (der) Zusammenhalt

Citizens – (die) Bürgerinnen und Bürger (male and female, or with the gender star: Bürger*innen

Crisis situation – (die) Krisensituation

Compared to – im Vergleich zu

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Member comments

  1. It is true at the beginning behaviour of people was different and with passage of time it changed. Now feelings for others have improved a lot and people got the feeling that in difficult times it is good to face the difficulties  being united and together.

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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.