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CHRISTMAS

What will Christmas 2020 be like in Germany?

The pandemic means the holiday season won't be the same for anyone this year. What might it be like in Germany?

What will Christmas 2020 be like in Germany?
A Christmas tree in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

When Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 states proposed the nationwide November lockdown last month, they underlined their hope that it would 'save Christmas'.

Now, with just weeks to go until the festive holidays, people across Germany want to know what restrictions will be in place so they can plan their celebrations.

Here's what we know so far, and what's still to be decided.

Will rules be relaxed for Christmas?

Authorities in Germany are still concerned about the coronavirus situation. On Monday there were 10,864 new infections reported to the Robert Koch Institute by local health authorities within 24 hours.

That's roughly the same number registered one week ago. However, on the weekends and Mondays, the numbers are lower due to fewer tests being carried out and not all health authorities reporting cases.

READ ALSO: Germany sees new record of daily Covid-19 cases

According to the latest proposal, Germany's current partial lockdown, which started on November 2nd, will remain in place until at least December 20th. If the situation hasn't improved by this point it will be extended by two weeks.

However, measures could be eased before December 20th in German states or areas that have a lower number of Covid-19 cases.

Nevertheless, it looks like restrictions on the number of contacts that people in Germany can meet will be in place from December 1st until mid-January under the plans “in order to ensure a reduction in the incidence of infection in the medium term”.

Private gatherings with friends, relatives and acquaintances will be limited to your own household and one other household, with a maximum of five people. Children under 14 would be exempt from this rule so they wouldn't make up the numbers.

A relaxation of these contact restrictions over the Christmas period is being considered.

This is the latest proposal put forward by Germany's states:

The states propose that from December 23rd to January 1st, meetings with a maximum of 10 people will be possible, even if they come from different households. Children under 14 are excluded from this rule so wouldn't be included in the total number of people.

Other ideas put forward were:

  • From December 21st to 27th you can meet with members of your household and with family members or friends from different households  – up to a maximum of five people
  • Another plan outlines that this period is extended from December 21st to January 3rd and the limit is a maximum of 10 people. Children up to 14-years-old would be excluded from this rule in each case

We will know more details on Wednesday after the meeting with Chancellor Merkel and state leaders.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about proposals to extend Germany's partial lockdown

Experts advise pre-quarantine

Even with strict contact restrictions, there is always the possibility of coronavirus outbreaks at family gatherings. In order to keep this risk as low as possible, virologist Christian Drosten has previously recommended a pre-quarantine period before visiting friends or family.

Instead of spending the days before meeting friends and family out and about, social contact should be cut down as much as possible. Ideally, the voluntary pre-quarantine should last about a week. If you remain symptom-free, you can be reasonably sure that you will not carry the virus into your family, although there is always a risk.

In the latest proposal by German states, a pre-quarantine period has also been called for.

People walking in Leipzig on Monday. Photo: DPA

Will it be possible to travel during the winter holidays?

Many people are wondering if they should book flights to visit family back home or try and soak up some sun in the winter holidays.

Currently Germany is advising against non-essential travel in all cases, whether it's within the country or abroad. Hotels and other accommodation are not open to tourists.

It remains unclear whether some travel restrictions will be lifted for the festive period. However, there are signs that travel will not be encouraged. Baden-Württemberg's state premier Winfried Kretschmann dampened expectations of a winter holiday during the festive period.

“We will certainly strongly recommend that you do not take any major trips, especially not abroad,” he told broadcaster Südwestrundfrunk.

What's happening with Christmas markets?

The worsening pandemic has already forced a slew of German cities, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Cologne, to announce they are scrapping or severely curtailing their Christmas markets.

Despite this, some places will set up smaller markets with strict social distancing and mask rules, and there are opportunities to buy Glühwein to takeaway from local bars. So what we're saying is: the Christmas spirit is certainly not lost.

There's also the opportunity to support your local Christmas tree seller by buying a tree there. You'll find them in various locations throughout December.

READ ALSO:

Can I do Christmas shopping?

Retailers have remained open during the 'lockdown light' in November and it will likely stay that way.

However, customers will certainly have to comply with distance and hygiene rules. In many city centres across Germany you also have to wear a mouth and nose covering – even outdoors.

Meanwhile, the retail trade is concerned about the effects of the lockdown in November, which has caused a huge drop in sales and empty city centres.

Lots of businesses are urging people to buy local this year to support them.

Will restaurants, pubs and bars remain closed?

Under the proposals, the shutdown that's been in place since November 2nd will be extended until December 20th. 

The following ideas on what happens after this point will likely be discussed among politicians in the coming days:

  • Restaurants, bars and cafes could stay closed but open for delivery and takeaway (as is the case now)
  • They could open to guests but with a curfew, such as 10pm
  • Catering facilities could open without restrictions (but this option seems unlikely)

Can people go to church or other religious services?

Attending church services is still a part of Christmas for many people. But will this also be possible this year? Baden-Württemberg's state premier Kretschmann still thinks church services are possible at Christmas and New Year – but with coronavirus restrictions.

The federal government and states are to talk with religious communities in order to reach agreements for church services and other religious gatherings with the aim of reducing contact.

What about New Year?

As anyone who's spent time in Germany at New Year knows, Germans are crazy for fireworks. Families and friends gather in streets to set off fireworks, leaving cities in particular looking and sounding at times like war zones.

There are discussions about whether fireworks should be banned this year in Germany to stop people gathering and to ease the burden on hospitals and emergency services.

But in the latest proposal, the states have stopped short of calling for a general ban and instead want to ban fireworks in crowded public places and streets to avoid large group formations.

“The local authorities will determine the affected squares and streets,” the draft agreement states. It is only “recommended” that New Year's Eve fireworks are banned at the turn of the year. A concrete ban on sales is not planned.

READ ALSO: Police and politicians in Germany call for ban on fireworks on New Year's Eve

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For members

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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