‘We can’t close everything down’: How should Germany tackle the pandemic in 2021?

To deal with the rising number of coronavirus infections, Germany has closed many businesses. But this isn't sustainable, says a high profile state leader.

'We can't close everything down': How should Germany tackle the pandemic in 2021?
Tables and chairs taped off at a restaurant in Hanover on November 28th. Photo: DPA

“Society and the economy will not survive another year like this,” North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Armin Laschet, of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said in an interview with the Rheinische Post published Monday.

“We can't close down everything in the long term and the state pays billions in losses month after month,” Laschet, who is a candidate to take over as leader of the CDU and a possible successor for Merkel, said.

“A new model will be needed from the new year. Permanent closures and subsequent compensation payments will destroy the state in the long run.”

He said clever concepts needed to be developed “to provide long-term perspectives for living with the pandemic”.

Last Wednesday, Germany extended its shutdown until at least December 20th, but likely early January. Bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels, cultural and leisure facilities are closed (except for food and drink takeaway) but schools and shops can stay open.

Meanwhile, Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, said he expected major damage to the German economy despite the billions in state aid.

“The Corona crisis will leave considerable marks on the economy,” Braun told the Handelsblatt newspaper. He said that the state could help to ensure that a large number of companies survive the crisis. “But it will not be without consequences,” he said.

Braun believes another economic aid package next summer may be needed. “If necessary, we must provide new incentives,” he said.

Nevertheless, Braun is more optimistic about the course of the pandemic next year. “The pandemic will lose its horror next year,” he said.

“As a society, we have to hold out through December and the months until March, sticking to the distance, hygiene and mask rules and the reduction of our contacts. Where that is not enough, restrictions are inevitable. Then spring will come and hopefully the vaccine will be ready.”

He said that the exponential growth in the number of infections had been halted at a level that was demanding but not yet over-stretching the healthcare system. But 400 deaths per day (which Germany reported last week) were too much, he said. “That is why I would have liked to have taken more far-reaching decisions in October,” said Braun.

'Christmas won't become a nationwide superspreader event'

As The Local has been reporting, new contact restrictions come into force in December allowing only two households to meet with a maximum of five people. Germany is set to relax these contact rules over Christmas.

But the President of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, said he did not think that easing the restrictions would cause a spike in cases.

“I consider it unlikely that Christmas will become a nationwide superspreading event,” he told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper.

If people adhere to the infection protection regulations, the temporary loosening is justifiable and even necessary for mental health reasons, he said.

Reinhardt also spoke out in favour of using coronavirus rapid tests more often. Priority should be given to health care facilities, such as retirement homes or hospitals. “Later on, it is conceivable that rapid tests could be carried out before larger events, ” he said.

On Monday Germany reported 11,169 new coronavirus infections and 125 deaths within 24 hours. This brings the total number of people who have died in connection with Covid-19 in Germany to 16,248.

A week ago the number of new cases stood at 10,864. On Sundays and Mondays, the numbers are comparatively low because, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) fewer samples are taken at the weekend and therefore fewer tests are carried out overall.


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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.