IN DETAIL: Germany extends coronavirus shutdown and tightens restrictions

Germany will extend its current coronavirus restrictions until early January unless there is a dramatic drop in infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.

IN DETAIL: Germany extends coronavirus shutdown and tightens restrictions
Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Speaking after seven hours of talks with the heads of Germany's 16 states, Merkel said the measures introduced in early November, including limits on private gatherings and the closure of bars, restaurants, leisure facilities and cultural sites, cannot be lifted given current infection rates.

The restrictions will be continued “until December 20th first but we assume, however, that … due to the very high incidence of infection, restrictions will have to apply until the beginning of January unless we have an unexpected decrease,” Merkel said.

Merkel said the exponential increase in new infections had come to a halt. “The steeply rising curve has become a flat one, but this is only a partial success. We can by no means be satisfied with this partial success,” she said.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Germany's meeting on festive rules?

The daily Covid-19 figures remain at a “much too high plateau”, Merkel said at the press conference in Berlin as Germany recorded 18,633 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours.

Merkel stressed that a “strong effort” was needed by the public to get the numbers down. “We still haven't reached our goal,” she said.

In order to ease restrictions, the infection rate would have to come down to below 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week, Merkel said – a far cry from the current seven-day incidence of almost 140. 

Merkel said the Christmas holidays were “particularly important days” but said the winter period would continue to be a difficult one. She said it was therefore important for people to to avoid all non-essential social contact and travel as much as possible.

It comes as Germany logged a record number of Covid-19 deaths in one day. Health authorities reported 410 new coronavirus-related deaths within 24 hours, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Wednesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

READ ALSO: What is Germany's new coronavirus test strategy for winter?

The main points:

– The government and states have agreed to tighten contact rules. From December 1st, only five adults from a maximum of two households will be allowed to meet (down from 10 people currently). Children under 14 are excluded from this rule.

– From December  23rd to January 1st, the rules will be temporarily relaxed. During this time meetings with a maximum of 10 people are allowed, regardless of the households involved. Again, children up to 14 are not counted.

– There will not be a general ban on fireworks, which had previously been discussed. The government and states “recommend” that people “refrain from New Year's Eve fireworks”. However, the use of fireworks is prohibited in busy squares and streets in order to avoid larger group formations.

– The obligation to wear face masks is to be extended and in future will also apply to the areas outside shops as well as car parks. “The population is encouraged to do their Christmas shopping during the week if possible,” says the decision paper. Shops will also have stricter social distancing rules.

– Bar, restaurants, leisure and cultural facilities will remain shut. Overnight accommodation will continue to be provided only for non-tourist purposes.

– Skiing holidays should be avoided until January 10th. Germany is to discuss this at the EU level to try and coordinate with other countries.

– In order to make travel safer, the number of occupied seats in trains is to be reduced significantly. For the winter months, people should only be allowed to book window seats. At the same time, however, the capacity of the trains should be increased with extra carriages to allow for more space.

– The mandatory quarantine period is to be reduced from 14 to 10 days. This is due to the “increased availability of rapid antigen tests”. This will reduce the burden on citizens and public health authorities, say the government and states.

– Companies should make it possible for employees to work from home, or they should ensure company holidays are possible from December 23rd to January 1st.

– As planned, schools and kindergartens will remain open during the shutdown. Nationwide, the Christmas holidays are to be brought forward to December 19th. From an incidence value of over 50 new infections per 100,000 residents, masks will be compulsory in secondary schools from seventh grade.

Relaxation of rules possible in individual federal states

States will in future be able to decide, depending on the infection situation, whether to relax or tighten measures.

Berlin's mayor Michael Müller said after the consultations that federal states with very good figures now have the opportunity to ease the situation. At the same time, he said, states with high infection rates had a duty to deal with the situation and examine possible tightening of measures.

Another meeting is to be held on December 15th to examine the situation.

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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.