‘After five days the coronavirus infectious period is over,’ says top German virologist

Top virologist Christian Drosten's coronavirus podcast is back. From suggesting a shorter quarantine period for people at risk of contracting the virus to discussions about immunity, here's what we learned.

'After five days the coronavirus infectious period is over,' says top German virologist
German virologist Christian Drosten. Photo: DPA

Drosten, of the Charité in Berlin, suggested shortening the quarantine period for people suspected of having Covid-19 on his NDR podcast, the Coronavirus Update, which has returned after a summer break.

Currently people have to isolate at home for 14 days if there's a risk they could have the infection. But Drosten said research shows that people are no longer infectious after five days.

“There's already, let's say, a steep thesis, that after five days we say the infectious period is actually over,” said Drosten.

He said authorities needed to consider how long quarantine periods should last so that they don't turn into lockdowns.

“What can you do in reality so that you don't have a de facto lockdown?” he said. “It's no use having all kinds of school classes, all kinds of workplaces under weeks of quarantine.”

Drosten also suggested that the five days should not be “wasted” on being tested. Instead, people should only be tested after the five days have elapsed to see whether they were infected, and are still infectious.

READ ALSO: 'Target clusters and superspreaders': Here's how Germany could prevent a second coronavirus wave


Drosten 'confident' coronavirus patients get immunity

The virologist also said he considered the confirmed cases of people getting secondary coronavirus infections to be a rarity. In his opinion, the vast majority of people who have survived Covid-19 are protected against getting it again.

“It's all just attention-grabbing,” Drosten said about a study published in Hong Kong with extensive publicity about the world's first proven re-infection of coronavirus.

At least for the duration of the current pandemic, immunity should continue, the virologist said. “I am very confident about this.”

In exceptional cases, renewed contact with the virus could possibly lead to a new surface infection, but this is unlikely to result in severe pneumonia. Due to the lower virus concentration in such cases, no more infection chains would likely develop.

READ ALSO: Quick intervention prevented 'up to 100,000' coronavirus deaths in Germany, says country's top virologist

The cases of people becoming infected again would probably be epidemiologically insignificant in terms of their spread and danger, he said.

Scientists would report such cases in their communication report, the media would pick up on it and ask numerous questions about it, for example regarding immunity or the effectiveness of vaccines. “This does not describe the medical reality and the standard case,” Drosten said.

Face masks are 'complex'

Meanwhile, Drosten described the wearing of masks as a “complex issue”.

While “the moist pronunciation”, i.e. droplets, is intercepted by so-called 'everyday community masks', the situation is different with aerosols spread through the air.

The aerosols that are considered crucial for infection spreading are so fine as droplets “that they do not get caught in the material of an ill-fitting mask”.

“This weakness of the masks clearly exists,” said Drosten.

Drosten nevertheless strongly promoted the wearing of the masks with two examples: if you meet an infected person in the supermarket, for example, you won't be hit directly by the aerosol if both wear a mask.

Another example could be a colleague with bad breath. “With bad breath, these are aerosols,” he said. If two colleagues meet without a mask, the other one notices the bad breath – but not with a mask, proving they are useful.

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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.