Groups of 10 and no fireworks ban: German states propose Christmas and New Year rules

Germany's 16 states have proposed special rules for the festive season. From calling on employers to offer company holidays to allowing groups of up to 10 people to meet, here are the draft proposals.

Groups of 10 and no fireworks ban: German states propose Christmas and New Year rules
Fireworks packaging on the street along with emergency services in Düsseldorf on January 1st 2020. Photo: DPA

The heads of Germany's states have been thrashing out their stance on how the country should tackle the next phase of the pandemic. The main question is: how much normality will be possible during the festive season?

The states will discuss their plans with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

It comes after Merkel called for tougher measures last week but states dug their heels in and refused on the changes. Instead, a series of recommendations were made in an appeal to the public.

It's important that the federal government and states strike a common line this week to show that Germany can agree on how to deal with the pandemic at this tricky time of year.

Groups of 10 allowed at Christmas and New Year

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.

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

Self-isolate before celebrating

The heads of government are calling on people to carry out self-quarantine for as many days as possible before Christmas or meeting family and friends.

“This can be supported by possibly bringing forward the Christmas school holidays to December 19th 2020,” the draft decision states. The self-quarantine is intended to minimise the risk of coronavirus infections during the festivities.

Call for flexibility from employers

In the fight against high infection rates, the states also want to ask employers for support. Firms should consider whether workplaces could be closed either by company holidays or by a generous home office solution from December 23rd to January 1st.

Stricter contact rules in lead up to Christmas

The states have also agreed to tighten contact rules. From December 1st, according to the plan, private meetings would only be allowed between members of two households, with a maximum of five people. At the moment, the limit is 10. Children are not affected by this rule.

READ ALSO: What will Christmas 2020 be like in Germany?

More masks and measures in schools and universities

Under the proposals, masks should be compulsory in public indoor spaces and in busy places. However, the exact places affected still have to be defined.

The heads of states also want to see face masks worn in all workplaces. The exception is if a distance of 1.5 metres to other people can be maintained.

At schools in regions with significantly more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, the states want to make masks compulsory from seventh grade and above. In “special infection hotspots”, there will be “further-reaching measures for teaching design”, such as hybrid teaching (a mix of digital and classroom), in older classes in addition to final-year classes.

Colleges and universities should essentially switch over to digital teaching.

A view of the large Christmas tree in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

No general ban on fireworks

The debate on a ban on fireworks on New Year's Eve has been particularly heated in recent days as state premiers struggle to reach a common line.

The SPD-led states had initially proposed banning fireworks in a bid to ease the pressure on emergency services and police, and avoid large groups on the streets.

The police union also previously called for a ban. However, some politicians have been pushing to keep the tradition, which sees Germans stock up on tons of fireworks and setting them off on public streets.

The states have, therefore, 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 paper says. 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

Partial lockdown extended across Germany

According to the proposal by the states, the current partial lockdown is to be extended until December 20th.

Bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels, leisure and cultural facilities have all been closed since November 2nd, although takeaway food and drink can be sold. Shops and schools have been allowed to stay open with restrictions.

If the incidence falls to “significantly” below 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days and if further conditions are met in a region, states should be given the opportunity to loosen the  measures.

Are these measures set in stone?

No. On Tuesday, the head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun (of the Christian Democrats) was expected to meet with the heads of states. Some changes could be made before the consultations with Merkel on Wednesday. However, the states are said to be on the same page.

On Wednesday the final decision is expected to be thrashed out and the public will be informed.

On Tuesday morning, the health authorities reported slightly fewer new coronavirus infections to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) compared to the previous week's level. Within 24 hours 13,554 new cases were registered. Last Tuesday the number was 14,419.

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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.