Merkel calls for tougher restrictions to fight coronavirus surge

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants measures toughened up to fight a surge in coronavirus infections, including requiring masks in more places and limiting numbers of people gathering for private events, according to a draft policy paper.

Merkel calls for tougher restrictions to fight coronavirus surge
Chancellor Merkel (CDU) begins to take part in Wednesday's talks through putting on a face mask. Photo: DPA

The proposals to be discussed with premiers from Germany's 16 states later Wednesday would see the restrictions kick in once an area records 35 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days.

Previously, Germany had used a yardstick of 50 new infections per 100,000 as the threshold when tougher restrictions would apply.

Merkel has in recent days repeatedly voiced alarm about contagion growing again and urged the country not to squander its early success in keeping numbers manageable.

She has cited as her priorities keeping schools open so that the country's youth would not lose more education time as well as ensuring that most of the economy can keep going.

But new infections continued their uptick on Wednesday, pushing past 5,000 cases in 24 hours — a level not seen since a lockdown imposed on Europe's biggest economy in the spring.

READ ALSO: Germany reports more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases within a day

The draft document takes aim at private gatherings, which it notes can help propagate the virus and makes an appeal to citizens to “critically weigh up in each case, whether, how and in what extent private parties are necessary and justifiable given the virus situation”.

It also pledges to extend help for companies whose businesses have been hurt by the restrictions.

It also warned that yet further restrictions could be imposed if the upwards trajectory of new infections is maintained.

New rules on the controversial ban on accommodation are not included in the draft. Instead, German residents are “urgently” urged to avoid unnecessary travel out of risk areas, as well as into inner-German areas with high infection rates.

In many states travellers from areas with high infection rates already have to present negative coronavirus tests if they want to stay in hotels or pensions.

Overnight stays with friends and family, however, are allowed. The regulation had caused heated debates in many states in view of the autumn holidays.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert acknowledged that Wednesday's talks would be difficult.

“The thing is, unity is desirable but unity is not an end in itself,” he said.

“It is not certain that all participants will come to the same conclusions today.”

Merkel advocated for unified and clear decisions to be made at Wednesday's meeting.

“Do we want to take a bold step or meet again week after week like in spring?”, said the CDU politician according to participants.

READ ALSO: State by state: What are Germany's current domestic quarantine rules and hotel bans?

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's disease control agency RKI, meanwhile urged vulnerable groups to get their seasonal flu shots this year to avoid overwhelming the health system with both flu and Covid-19 illnesses.

“We're in a situation where I think we can still flatten the exponential growth but for that we all need to make an effort,” he said.

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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.