Fact check: What’s the latest on Covid-19 (and the new variant) in Germany?

As Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders decide on Germany's lockdown, we look at what the facts of the coronavirus situation are right now.

Fact check: What's the latest on Covid-19 (and the new variant) in Germany?
A person walking past a shop sign in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Germany was on Tuesday January 5th set to extend lockdown measures until at least the end of the month. However, there are calls for it to be extended further, and for tougher restrictions.

READ ALSO: Germany set to prolong lockdown measures as Covid-19 deaths surge

What's the latest?

Germany is still struggling with a high number of coronavirus deaths and cases.

“Currently, the number of transmissions in the population in Germany is high,” says the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in its latest situation report. The RKI judges the level of threat to the health of the general population as “very high”.

On Tuesday Germany reported 11,897 new coronavirus infections within a day. And 944 people died within the same time period.

As this graph shows, the number of deaths during the second wave so far is extremely high compared to previous months.

The RKI says this is down to more older people becoming infected by Covid-19, and outbreaks in care homes.

In general, interpreting the data at the moment is a bit difficult because coronavirus cases are being detected, recorded and transmitted with a delay around Christmas and the turn of the year.

A record high of 1,129 deaths in 24 highs was recorded in Germany on Wednesday December 30th. The highest number of new infections registered within 24 hours – 33,777 – was reported on December 18th.

Officials are also worried about the impact of holiday travel and socialising over Christmas and New Year.

That won't be known until mid-January.

What else should we know?

The average number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days (the seven-day incidence) was 134.7 on Tuesday morning. German officials want to get that number down to 50 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days.

A record incidence of 197.6 was logged on December 22nd.

However, there are large differences between federal states. The highest incidences on Tuesday were in Saxony with 298.7 and Thuringia with 241.8. The lowest value was in Schleswig-Holstein with 77.1.

The RKI has logged 1,787,410 Covid-19 infections in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic. The total number of people who have died from or with Covid-19 has risen to 35,518. The RKI says the number of people who've recovered is around 1.4 million.

The nationwide seven-day reproductive number is around 0.85. This means that 100 people with Covid-19 are said to go on and infect 85 others.

The value represents the infection rate between eight and 16 days ago. If it is below 1 for a longer period of time, the incidence of infection is decreasing. The RKI stated that the R-value may be underestimated due to delays.

How many Covid-19 patients are in intensive care in Germany?

There are currently 5,744 coronavirus patients in ICU in Germany, according to the RKI. A total of 3,211 people are on ventilation.

How many people have been vaccinated?

Since December 26th, around 265,986 people in Germany have been vaccinated against Covid-19. 

READ ALSO: How Germany plans to improve Covid-19 vaccine rollout in January

What do the coronavirus mutations mean for Germany?

Scientists stress that the new variant, originally detected in the UK, could make it more difficult to contain the pandemic.

Based on available data it seems likely it will soon be the dominant variant in Germany, virologist Jörg Timm from the University Hospital in Düsseldorf told Welt.

“I think a reduction in the number of cases is fundamentally necessary for sustainable infection control,” said Timm. “If the data on the increased contagiousness of the new variant is correct – and I assume it is – then the task will certainly become more difficult.”

READ ALSO: How long will Germany's tough lockdown measures be in place?

Social Democrats (SPD) health expert Karl Lauterbach also said current measures do not go far enough, particularly due to the threat of the new virus variant.

In the case of Sars-CoV-2, mutations have apparently made the virus easier to transmit. The variant, B.1.1.7 was initially detected in the UK, but has since been confirmed in several other countries, including Germany.

Meanwhile, South Africa reported another variant, 501Y.V2, in mid-December. Although the two variants are genetically similar, according to the World Health Organisation, they arose independently of each other.

It is not entirely clear how widespread the B.1.1.7 variant already is in Germany. One reason is because the make-up of the virus detected in people is deciphered much less frequently than in the UK, said Welt.

So far, only isolated cases of the variant have been reported, including in the states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia. However, the RKI expects the numbers will significantly increase.

Experts currently do not believe that the coronavirus vaccines approved will be less effective against the two variants.

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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.