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ANALYSIS: Germany’s tougher Christmas lockdown rules are the right move – but should they have come sooner?

With just over a week before Christmas, Germany is closing all non-essential shops, banning alcohol in public and has changed its festive celebration rules. Could this action have come sooner?

ANALYSIS: Germany's tougher Christmas lockdown rules are the right move - but should they have come sooner?
People drinking Glühwein in Stuttgart. Alcohol is to be banned under the new rules. Photo: DPA

Christmas in Germany is always a special time, especially with the markets. But this year we are in the middle of the second coronavirus wave so there’s been a lot less fun (and fewer markets).

It appears, though, that we haven’t done enough. On Sunday Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state leaders ordered tougher lockdown nationwide measures from Wednesday December 16th until at least January 10th.  

As daily infections hover around 20,000 (even increasing to a record high of nearly 30,000 on December 11th) and the number of deaths shoot up, it’s clear the partial shutdown put in place in November hasn’t worked. 

Now schools have to move to online teaching or close until the middle of next month, probably longer. Non-essential shops and hairdressers also have to shut. 

And there will be no more Glühwein as drinking alcohol in public is now banned. It’s a blow to the businesses trying to make a bit of money in these dismal times by setting up takeaway mulled wine stands.

It’s also disappointing for punters: in Berlin groups have been gathering on street corners, wrapped up against the cold and clutching paper cups. People just want to enjoy themselves, and it’s no wonder after this year. 

With no public places open, streets and parks – or other people's houses when it gets too cold – are the only options.

However, these gatherings are likely one of the many reasons why Covid-19 infections refuse to go down.

READ ALSO: Majority of Germans could receive Covid-19 vaccine by autumn 2021, says Health Minister

So can we socialise at Christmas? Yes, but the rules have changed. Germany was to allow a max of 10 people from any number of households to meet from December 23rd to New Year’s Eve.

Under the new rules a household can meet with four close family members to celebrate from December 24th to 26th (not including under 14s).

There are some state differences – in Berlin you can meet friends instead of family.

People queuing for drinks in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Can people keep up with the rules?

The government is trying to issue sensible guidance, urging people to isolate for five to seven days before celebrating with others.

Although Germans are known for sticking to rules, there is pandemic fatigue. It’s not helped by the mixed messages, changing rules, and squabbling between the government and state leaders.  

Merkel had been pushing to tighten rules much earlier than this point, but state leaders dug their heels in and refused on changes, opting for a series of recommendations instead.

Even people who have been following the situation and trying to do the right thing are struggling to know where exactly the government stands on issues. Just a few weeks ago, Germany stopped short of issuing a ban on fireworks at New Year – but now there is a sales ban.

It’s also important to note that this isn’t a strict lockdown compared to other European countries, and even Germany’s spring lockdown: people have not been ordered to stay at home (there’s just an appeal) and we can visit others in their homes (two households with a maximum of five people can meet indoors and outdoors).

Although some states, like Bavaria and Saxony, are going further, issuing curfews.

Meanwhile, there is no strict ban on travel, authorities have just said urged people not to.

There's no doubt we need tougher action – you only need to think about the intensive care beds filling up, medical staff, as well as care home residents and employees to know that we should be tightening not loosening rules.

And then there are the families who are facing this Christmas without their loved ones. What an awful time it's been for so many.

The question is should there have been a tougher lockdown earlier? Now is not the time to point fingers, we just have to get through winter and do the best we can.

But I’ve no doubt Germany will be taking stock and lessons will have to be learned, particularly from the handling of the second wave.

What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment or emailing [email protected]

Member comments

  1. ‘We’ have put up with enough of this outright Covid-lie. The lockdowns are killing more people & Businesses than a flu.ever will

  2. @Adrian
    What a strange comment. Can you give us some hard evidence that lockdowns are “killing more people . . . than flu”? It’s not a lie, either. It’s humans, including highly trained scientists, struggling in good faith to find a way of getting the better of a virus which is far more pathogenic than flu. Personally, I feel that eventually we will indeed have to admit that the virus can’t be stopped, and it’ll become ‘every man for himself’. Throughout the centuries, Nature has always waged culls on mankind and we may have to accept that this is just another.

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For members


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.