German police probe arson attack on RKI as Covid-19 tensions mount

Berlin police on Sunday broke up a protest against coronavirus curbs and opened an arson investigation after an attack on a building housing the country's public health agency.

German police probe arson attack on RKI as Covid-19 tensions mount
A window of the RKI on Sunday morning following the fire. Photo: DPA

Hundreds of police officers were out on the streets of the German capital to monitor a protest of some 2,000 people claiming the government's measures to curb the virus undermine their freedom.

The demo was timed to coincide with the opening of the three-day World Health Summit in Berlin where the pandemic will be the main topic of discussion, although the event has been moved online this year because of the virus.

Berlin police on Twitter said they broke up the protest early because participants failed to comply with social distancing rules and face mask requirements.

The demonstrators shouted slogans such as “We are the people” and “We are here, we are loud because they are robbing us of our freedom”.

READ ALSO: 'Anti-coronavirus demonstration' takes place in Berlin

Some of them were confronted by counter-demonstrators who shouted “Nazis out!”.

Separately, police in Berlin said they had opened an investigation into attempted arson after “several people who remain unknown” were seen overnight throwing “incendiary devices” and bottles at a building belonging to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.

The attack caused a small fire that a security guard was able to extinguish and no one was hurt, the police statement said. The facade of the building suffered minor damage including a broken window pane.

Police said they were not ruling out a political motive for the attack, given the RKI's high-profile role in communicating to the public about the coronavirus and advising the government on its pandemic response.

Police hindered anti-coronavirus demonstrators on Sunday from moving further. Photo: DPA

The tensions come as Germany grapples with a spike in coronavirus cases after having coped relatively well with the first wave in the spring.

On Sunday, the RKI reported more than 11,000 new cases over the past 24 hours, marking the fourth day in a row the country has crossed the 10,000 mark.

Overall, Germany has recorded 429,181 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 10,032 deaths.

The cities of Frankfurt and Erfurt announced at the weekend that they were cancelling their popular Christmas markets this year to help slow the spread of the outbreak.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU party meanwhile said it was considering postponing its December 4th congress for 1,000 delegates, who are set to choose a new party leader and possible Merkel successor.

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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.