German health officials warn against talking loudly, singing and laughing

Germany's public health agency has updated its advice on how coronavirus spreads, saying the risk of outbreaks heavily depends on "individual behaviour".

German health officials warn against talking loudly, singing and laughing
People social distancing and singing during the Dresden Open Air at the end of April 2020. Photo: DPA

The number of new daily coronavirus infections in Germany surged past 1,700 in 24 hours, the highest daily toll since April, figures showed Thursday.

Now experts from the the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) have updated their advice on the transmission of the virus, highlighting the role face-to-face contact plays in outbreaks.

In its latest daily report, the RKI reiterated that the SARS-Cov-2 virus “can be transmitted easily from person to person”.

The agency said the risk of infection depends “heavily on the regional spread, living conditions and also on individual behaviour (physical distancing, hygiene measures and community masks).

“Here, contacts in risk situations (such as long face-to-face contact) play a special role,” said the RKI.

The health agency highlighted the dangers of social gatherings.

“Aerosol emission increases sharply when speaking loudly, singing or laughing,” the RKI said. “In indoor rooms, this significantly increases the risk of transmission, even if a distance of more than 1.5 metres is maintained.

“If the minimum distance of 1.5m without covering the mouth and nose is not maintained, e.g. when groups of people sit at a table or in large gatherings, there is also an increased risk of transmission outdoors.”

Across the world, choirs have been linked to a number of Covid outbreaks. Many choir groups have moved their practice outdoors and include social distancing measures.

Large gatherings should be avoided

RKI called the rising number of cases in Germany “very concerning”. In total there have been 228,621 confirmed cases and 9,253 people have died in Germany.

“In the past few weeks the Covid-19 incidence has risen markedly in many federal states and the number of districts reporting zero Covid-19 cases over a period of 7 days has decreased considerably,” the health agency said.

Much of the rise has been blamed on returning holidaymakers as well as parties and family gatherings.

The RKI said outbreaks had been found in “nursing homes and hospitals, facilities for asylum-seekers and refugees, community facilities, meat-processing plants, agricultural and other occupational settings, as well as in the context of events with family and friends, religious events and travel”.

READ ALSO: 'The trend can't continue': Merkel rules out easing coronavirus restrictions as cases spike

Officials also said more younger people are picking up the virus at the moment.

The RKI said Germany must stop the situation from getting worse.

“On the one hand, the increase in younger age groups needs to be stopped, on the other hand, transmission into older and vulnerable groups needs to be prevented,” the agency said.

“As soon as the number of infections rises among elderly people, hospitalisations and the number of deaths will likely rise as well.”

Health officials urged people to remain cautious and do their bit.

“This can only be prevented if the entire population continues to be committed to decreasing transmission, e.g. by consistently observing rules of physical distancing and hygiene – also outdoors – by airing indoor areas and, where indicated, by wearing a community or face mask correctly.

“Large gatherings – especially indoors – should be avoided, and events with family and friends should be limited to close family members and friends.”

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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.