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Germany’s November shutdown measures explained

How long will the restrictions last? What do authorities hope the new measures will achieve? Your questions answered.

Germany's November shutdown measures explained
A hotel sign in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Hotels will not be open to tourists in November.Photo: DPA

Four week 'therapy'

The partial lockdown will apply from Monday November 2nd until the end of the month. After two weeks, the government and states intend to consult and, according to Merkel, “make any necessary adjustments” to measures.

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder said: “We are prescribing a four-week therapy, if you can say that. We hope that the dose is right, that it is successful.”

Contact restrictions

Merkel has repeatedly made clear how important it is for people in Germany to drastically reduce their social contacts.

According to the new rules, only members of your own household and one other household – a maximum of 10 people in total – will be allowed to meet in public during the shutdown. Violations of these contact restrictions are to be sanctioned by authorities.

“Groups of people celebrating in public places, in apartments as well as private areas are unacceptable in view of the serious situation in our country,” the resolution agreed between Merkel and state leaders states.

Experts believe the number of new infections per day must be brought down to 4,000 to prevent a dramatic increase in the number of Covid-19 deaths. This would require a reduction of contacts by 50 to 75 percent over several weeks in order to achieve a significant turnaround by December.

As of Thursday October 29th, the number of new infections within 24 hours had climbed to 16,774, reported the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

READ ALSO: Germany to close bars and restaurants as Merkel announces new round of Covid-19 shutdowns

Schools and Kindergartens stay open

Schools and daycare centres are to remain open in November despite the sharp rise in coronavirus numbers, the panel decided. Closures should only be a “last resort”. There are two local lockdowns currently in place in Germany, in Bavaria's Bercthesgadener Land and Rottal-Inn, and school closures are in place there due to extremely high figures.

Hospitality

Cafes, restaurants, bars and other similar venues are to close from November 2nd for the rest of the month. Exceptions will be made for the delivery and collection of food for consumption at home and canteens will be allowed to remain open.

This is a very controversial point. Not all state leaders were convinced of the need for this before the meeting. And according to the RKI, restaurants are not the drivers of the pandemic.

Leisure

Theatres, opera and concert halls, museums, trade fairs, cinemas, amusement parks, amusement arcades, casinos, betting shops, brothels, swimming pools, saunas, spas, gyms and similar facilities will be closed.

Recreational and amateur sports are also not allowed, with the exception of individual sports alone, in pairs or with one's own household on and in all public and private sports facilities.

Professional sports will only be allowed without spectators in November. This also applies to the German Football League.

Berlin mayor Michael Müller, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian premier Markus Söder on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Personal care services

Personal care businesses such as beauty salons, massage parlours or tattoo parlours will also have to close in November. Medically necessary treatments, for example physiotherapy, will continue to be possible. Unlike in spring, hairdressing salons will also remain open under the existing hygiene regulations.

Shops

All stores can remain open during the November shutdown but with tougher restrictions. No more than one customer per 10 square metres is allowed in shops, though In the draft resolution of the Federal Government, 25 square metres had originally been mentioned.

READ ALSO: How can Germany control Covid-19's spread?

Travel

Confusing internal travel restrictions in Germany's states have been slammed in recent weeks. But now there is a uniform rule: the government is issuing a ban on domestic tourist accommodation across Germany in November. It means hotels and other accommodation will only be allowed for essential business trips and the like – not tourist purposes.

Borders

Both the federal and state governments agree that the borders should remain open as much as possible, unlike in spring, even though the growing Covid-19 numbers in Bavaria, and in neighbouring Czech Republic and Austria are causing concern. This week, Bavarian authorities pleaded for people in Austria not to cross the border for non-essential reasons.

Border closures caused chaos during the first coronavirus wave, with major queues forming at border controls.

Care homes

In the first wave in spring, old people's homes were sealed off with strict visitor restrictions to protect residents from infections. But this can lead to social isolation, authorities believe.

The government and states want to give special protection to vulnerable groups instead with the availability of rapid coronavirus tests. They “should now be used quickly and as a priority in this area”.

The aim is not to leave groups isolated.  Social and youth welfare institutions and comparable counselling facilities will remain open.

Support for businesses

A multi-billion euro aid programme is being put together to help affected companies cushion the loss of turnover caused by the restrictions.

Specifically, companies with up to 50 employees and self-employed people will be compensated for 75 percent of the loss of turnover. For larger companies, the percentages will be determined in accordance with European guidelines on state aid law.

Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Economics Minister Peter Altmaier are to finalise the details this week. Up to €10 billion has been earmarked for financial aid.

Support from states

As Germany is a federal country, states will implement the rules agreed. The decisions in Wednesday's meeting have been, on the whole, supported by all state premiers, despite the fact the infection situation differs considerably across the country. At the previous conferences with the Chancellor, there had been major disagreements.

There is a slight exception though: the central eastern state of Thuringia only supports “those measures which are suitable and proportionate for effectively containing the incidence of infection based on scientific findings”, according to a statement in the minutes of the state chancellery. This could mean there are slight differences in this state.

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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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