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‘It’s possible Germany will see more than 10,000 coronavirus cases a day,’ warns health chief

Germany is experiencing a "worrying jump" in coronavirus cases, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday, as the number of new infections over the past 24 hours soared past 4,000 for the first time since early April.

'It's possible Germany will see more than 10,000 coronavirus cases a day,' warns health chief
RKI chief Lothar Wieler and Health Minister Jens Spahn. Photo: DPA

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control, also warned the country could see an uncontrollable spread of the virus.

Germany recorded 4,058 new Covid-19 infections over the  last 24 hours, a stark increase on Wednesday's figure of 2,828, according to the RKI.

“The numbers are showing a worrying jump,” Spahn told a press conference in Berlin, urging Germans not to drop their guard against the deadly virus.

“Barely any other country in Europe has managed the crisis as well so far,” he said. “But we must not gamble away what we've achieved.”

He reminded Germans to stick to the well-known rules of mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus cases top 4,000 a day in Germany for first time since April

But he also urged them to add the coronavirus app and the regular airing of rooms into their daily routines.

“We don't know how the situation in Germany will develop in the coming weeks,” RKI head Wieler told the same press conference.

“It's possible that we will reach more than 10,000 cases a day. It's possible that the virus will spread uncontrollably. But I hope it doesn't.”

The alarming jump in cases came with autumn school holidays under way or starting across Germany, prompting calls from Chancellor Angela Merkel's government for citizens to avoid travel abroad during the usually busy period for tourism.

Germany's 16 states were also tightening rules for domestic travel, with many agreeing a ban on overnight stays in hotels or holiday apartments for visitors from so-called risk zones within the country.

Places where new infections top 50 per 100,000 inhabitants over the last seven days are classed as risk zones, and local authorities are required to take specific measures to halt contagion.

READ ALSO:

'Invincible'

Hotspots have sprung up in the country, some recording mass infections from family events or private parties.

Spahn said many of the current cases were affecting younger people who were “partying, travelling, thinking they are invincible”.

“But they're not,” he said, urging young people to think of elderly relatives for whom the disease can have serious consequences.

The RKI's Wieler said infection numbers were rising nationwide, with experts seeing larger outbreaks as well as “lots of smaller outbreaks in many parts of Germany”.

Overall, Germany has recorded 310,144 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the RKI. A total of 9,578 people have died, giving the country a relatively low death toll compared with other European nations.

'Test of character'

Spahn announced his intention to use rapid tests to provide more security for residents and visitors to nursing homes. He also said that he was working with the federal states to revise the quarantine rules for the autumn and winter.

“This pandemic is a test of character for us as a society,” said Spahn.

Wieler said that as soon as more elderly people become infected, the country will have to expect more severe cases and more deaths.

It is a fallacy that the virus is not so dangerous, he said. “We are doing well according to the circumstances because we have followed the rules.”

It is only if the number of infections remains low that life can continue without too many restrictions, Wieler added. He appealed to people to avoid closed rooms and large groups.

As The Local reported last week, airing out rooms was recently added to the German government's advice to tackle coronavirus.

Chancellor Merkel said ventilation was one of the “cheapest and most effective measures” in the fight against the virus.

Professor Dr. Martin Kriegel from the TU Berlin has been researching the spread of aerosols for years. He said: “Ventilation is a very effective preventive measure”.

He added that the amount of fresh air supplied and the length of time people stay in a room with several people are crucial factors. But the risk is never zero.

READ ALSO: Lüften: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out rooms

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HEALTH

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. 

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