Coronavirus situation in Germany ‘very serious’, says top health institute

Germany reported a huge jump in coronavirus cases on Thursday, with health experts warning of a "very serious" situation and regional disagreements hampering efforts to slow the contagion.

Coronavirus situation in Germany 'very serious', says top health institute
A face mask lays on the ground in Oberhausen, North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the areas classified as a risk area. Photo: DPA

The country reported 11,287 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours — a large increase from the previous record of 7,830 last Friday.

“The overall situation has become very serious,” Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre, told a press conference.

READ ALSO: Explained: How and why coronavirus cases are going up around Germany

It is still possible to bring the virus under control through “systematic compliance with restrictive measures”, Wieler said.

But he urged people to observe the rules and cautioned that an “uncontrolled” spread could be unavoidable in some regions.

Germany was praised for managing to contain the virus earlier this year, even welcoming patients from other countries where health systems were buckling under the strain.

Patchwork of rules

The figures are still well below those of many other European countries, but Germany has been facing a steady increase in cases for several weeks.

There are currently 964 virus patients in intensive care, 430 of them on respirators, according to the German Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI).

The number is still far from the record set in mid-April, but 21,401 of the country's 29,799 intensive care beds are now occupied.

At a meeting last week between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of Germany's 16 states last week, new measures were agreed for so-called hotspots, including caps on the number of people gathering indoors and a ban on late-night alcohol sales.

But under Germany's federal system, each state ultimately has the right to decide whether to impose the rules, leading to a patchwork of regulations.

A woman wearing a face mask in Aachen, North Rhine-Westphalia one of Germany's current hotspots. Photo: DPA

Concerns over Christmas

One measure that has proved especially controversial is a travel ban that theoretically prevents people from risk areas within Germany from booking overnight accommodation in another state.

But many of Germany's states have refused to comply with the ban, while in others it has been overturned by local courts.

Similarly, some cities are enforcing early closing times for restaurants and bars, but in Berlin the measure was overturned by a legal ruling.

Bavaria, meanwhile, has imposed a full lockdown in the Alpine resort of Berchtesgaden, which has the highest rate of new infections in the country.

Merkel expressed doubt that the new measures would be enough last week, saying “my worry is still not gone after today”.

On Saturday, she asked people to cut down on socialising, encouraging them to stay at home instead.

“What winter will be, what our Christmas will be, will be decided in the days and weeks to come,” she said.

READ ALSO: Merkel appeals to Germans to stay home now to save Christmas

Wieler on Thursday blamed private gatherings, especially among young people, for the dramatic rise in cases.

“The more people gather in private circles, the more the numbers will increase and the further the virus will spread,” he said, adding that young people were currently “the most exposed”.

At least 392,049 people have been infected in Germany since the outbreak of the virus, with 9,905 deaths reported.

Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday became the first German cabinet minister to test positive.

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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.