‘Fever drop-in clinics’: German Health Minister proposes new coronavirus strategy

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn says the country needs to step up plans for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic as the cooler months approach.

'Fever drop-in clinics': German Health Minister proposes new coronavirus strategy
A special drop-in clinic set up in Wernigerode, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: DPA

Spahn said Germany could better cope with the pandemic by introducing nationwide so-called 'Fieberambulanzen' or 'fever outpatient clinics' – special contact points for patients with respiratory symptoms that could be coronavirus or flu.

He also said there should be increased protective measures and testing for risk groups.

The aim is to arm the country with more tools to stall the spread of coronavirus during the autumn and winter seasons.

What's a 'fever outpatient clinic'?

For patients with common respiratory symptoms such as a fever or cough indicating a coronavirus or flu infection, there should be central contact points, Spahn told the Rheinische Post.

He said he was counting on the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) to offer these clinics locally. “Conceptually they already exist – ideally they should be accessible nationwide in autumn,” he said.

The aim is that people with symptoms “can get “tested to find out what kind of illness they have and where one will be particularly protected so that they don't infect others”.

These clinics have already been set up in some parts of Germany, including the central-eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. People there have to call their local health department and they can be referred to the outpatient clinic to be tested if it's suspected that they have coronavirus. They can then be tested and advised on further measures.

According to Spahn, there should also be more special measures to minimise dangers for risk groups such as the elderly or the immunocompromised.

“It is important that we continue to provide special protection for particularly affected risk groups and that we sharpen the concepts for this in everyday life,” said the politician who's a member of Angela Merkel's centre Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

READ ALSO: German coronavirus situation 'could escalate like other European countries'

Health Minister Jens Spahn. Photo: DPA

“That is why preventive screening tests in sensitive areas such as nursing homes will become a fixed component of the test strategy for autumn and winter. We must prevent the virus from entering these homes. The highest level of vigilance is still required.”

Spahn expects that by mid-October, in coordination with Germany's 16 federal states, it will be clear how the general testing strategy for autumn and winter will be developed.

Rapid antigen tests, which can tell in minutes rather than days whether someone is infected, are planned, as well as new guidelines from the Interior Ministry on the quarantine period for returnees from risk areas abroad.

READ ALSO: These are the countries and regions on Germany's high risk list

Spahn further explained that test capacity has been increased enormously. “In the last four weeks alone, about a third of all tests since the beginning of the pandemic have been performed,” he said.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Monday said there were 922 new infections in Germany within 24 hours, increasing the total confirmed cases since the pandemic began to 272,337. A total of 9,386 people have died so far.

Note that the number of new cases are often lower at the weekend and the start of the week due to data being transferred at a slower pace by local health authorities to the RKI.

Football behind closed doors

Meanwhile, Spahn praised the decision to hold the Bundesliga opening game in Munich without spectators and did not rule out similar steps in future.

“As bitter as this may be for the individual and the mood in football, if infection rates rise regionally, no fans should go to the stadium. The city of Munich did exactly the right thing,” he said.

Due to rising coronavirus infection figures in Munich, no fans were admitted to the Bayern Münich v FC Schalke 04 (8:0) match on Friday evening, contrary to the original plan. Initially 7,500 fans were to be allowed in the stadium.

Authorities decided the risk was too high on Thursday evening.

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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.