German lockdown rules will help slow spread of new Covid strain, says virologist

A day after saying he was not particularly worried about a new coronavirus mutation, virologist Christian Drosten says that new data "does not look good". But he said Germany's restrictions will help the situation.

German lockdown rules will help slow spread of new Covid strain, says virologist
People walking in Berlin on December 21st. Photo: DPA

It came after a new evaluation by British authorities confirmed that a new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in the UK, particularly the south of England.

“A novel variant has been identified that has spread rapidly in the UK,” British experts wrote in their summary. According to the report, the new variant of coronavirus has “substantially increased transmissibility with a high degree of certainty”. Further studies are still ongoing, according to the experts.

Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité in Berlin, shared the data from UK's public health agency on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, it does not look good,” he added in his Tweet. However, he also said things were not all bad: “On the positive side, cases with the mutation have so far only increased in areas where the overall incidence was high or increasing. So contact reduction also works against the spread of the mutation.”

However, Drosten later said the he considered the rapid spread of the new variant in Germany to be unlikely.

“I don't think we'll have a major problem soon,” he told DPA.

It is quite likely that the variant which was first detected in the UK is now also in Germany. “But with the current restrictions, this variant is likely to find it rather difficult to gain a foothold in this country,” he said.

Drosten added that so far there is no evidence that the new variant has an impact on disease severity.

“This is quite important for the population, who are now worried,” he said.

According to British authorities, the new virus variant is up to 70 percent more contagious than the previously known form.

On the previous day, Drosten had warned against people panicking over the new variant.

“I am not that concerned at the moment,” Drosten had said. “There may be scientific surprises. But I am anything but worried.”

However, he called the current approach of banning travel from the UK appropriate due to the uncertainty. When there's more information, he said, politicians could then react accordingly.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's UK travel ban

Drosten had said that more information was needed before the situation could be evaluated properly.

Briefing reporters on the latest findings, scientists from the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) who are tracking the variant said on Monday the variant had quickly become the dominant strain in the south of Britain, and could soon do the same across the country.

“We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK,” said Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University and chair of NERVTAG.

READ ALSO: German bitotech firm boss 'confident' vaccine is effective against new Covid strain


Member comments

  1. What ever happened to the ‘Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve’. Lockdowns & masks have Not worked so far, why should they start to work now!

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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.