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COVID-19

WHO warns Europe of Covid-19 ‘resurgence’ and urges families to wear face masks at Christmas

The World Health Organization in Europe Wednesday urged families to wear face masks during this year's Christmas family gatherings, as it warned of a "further resurgence" of Covid-19 in early 2021.

WHO warns Europe of Covid-19 'resurgence' and urges families to wear face masks at Christmas
Pedestrians wearing protective face masks check out the window in a store in Paris. Photo: AFP

The UN  agency said people should not underestimate “the importance of your decisions” and encouraged extra precaution for holiday gatherings, even within the family. 

If possible, the WHO said celebrations should be held outdoors and “participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing.”

For indoor festivities, the WHO said limiting the number of guests and ensuring good ventilation were key to reducing the risk of infection.

“It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy,” the health agency said in a statement.

The plea came as the agency noted that “Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains widespread and intense,” even though some “fragile progress” had been made.

“There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it,” WHO Europe said.

The WHO's European Region comprises 53 countries and includes Russia and several countries in Central Asia, a region that has registered more than 22 million cases of the new coronavirus and close to 500,000 deaths.

In the last seven days, nearly 1.7 million new cases have been recorded, as well as more than 34,500 deaths.

As a second wave of the novel coronavirus is sweeping over the continent, many countries have once again introduced tough measures to curb the spread.

On Wednesday, several new measures were imposed, including the closure of non-essential shops in Germany and pubs and restaurants in Britain.

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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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