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SHUTDOWN

Stricter shutdown generates mixed response across Germany

There was a divided reaction to Germany's new stricter shutdown, which went into effect on Monday throughout Germany. Some politicians said it was welcome in light of growing infection rates, while others called for looser alternative measures.

Stricter shutdown generates mixed response across Germany
Jena, Thuringia's city centre was virtually empty on Monday morning amid the start of the new shutdown. Photo: DPA

In view of the continuing high number of coronavirus infections, stricter regulations will apply in all of Germany's 16 states as of Monday.

Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Bremen, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein are the last states to implement the rules adopted last Tuesday following a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders.

They include stricter contact measures: A household may only meet with one other person outside of it.

Extreme coronavirus hotspots are also imposing restrictions on freedom of movement. 

It means people in areas with a seven-day incidence of more than 200 infections per 100,000 inhabitants are not allowed to travel more than 15 kilometres from their place of residence within seven days without a valid reason. 

However different states are taking different approaches, sometimes leaving implementation up to municipalities themselves, or only recommending the measure.

READ ALSO: This is how Germany's coronavirus rules vary across states

Mixed reactions on shutdown

The reaction around Germany to the stricter rules – set to be in effect until at least the end of January – was mixed on Monday.

Some politicians and health experts welcomed them in light of growing infection figures and others called them an encroachment on freedom.

Thuringia's state premier Bodo Ramelow, who has previously been in favour of relaxing coronavirus rules, said he welcomed new restrictions in light of increasingly high infections in his eastern state.

“We simply have to face the fact that the coronavirus is only now starting to really gain momentum,” Ramelow told public broadcaster ZDF. 

“I notice that in Thuringia, where I live, the situation is on fire right now. Today is a bad day for me: we have exceeded a seven-day incidence of 300 in the whole of Thuringia, and all districts and cities have exceeded the 200 mark. There is no more room for relaxation of the rules.”

Ramelow speaking in Thuringia's parliament in December. Photo: DPA

Social Democratic politician and health expert Karl Lauterbach even called for tightening the current shutdown and “drastically shutting down” the economy if necessary.

“We have focused very strongly on the private sector and schools. If that is not enough, then we will actually have to focus (on closing more businesses),” he told the Tagesspiegel on Monday. “It simply won't work any other way.”

Schools

Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey has called on states to agree on rules for schools and daycare centres (Kitas) that are as uniform as possible.

States are approaching schools and Kitas differently, with some opening up in January and others waiting longer.

“I, too, think this makes sense and I am committed to a common framework,” the SPD politician told the Rheinische Post on Monday.

Meanwhile, the German Child Protection League (Deutscher Kinderschutzbund) sharply criticised state measures on schools.

“It is a mystery to me why the states have not used the summer to develop clear and binding regulations for face-to-face, alternating and distance learning and to equip the schools accordingly,” President Heinz Hilgers told the Rheinische Post.

“This is a failure that threatens to reduce acceptance of the necessary measures to combat the pandemic.”

15 km rule

Free Democrats (FDP) Secretary General Volker Wissing says the decision to limit the movement radius of residents in hotspots to a radius of 15 kilometres unacceptable.

“The 15-kilometre regulation is an imposition,” he said on a live broadcast on Bild. “It may not be a problem for people in Berlin and big cities, but in the countryside it massively encroaches on civil liberties.”

This must be closely observed and intervened in at an early stage. Under no circumstances should this be allowed to drift.”

READ ALSO: 15 km rule: Which areas in Germany are affected by new movement restrictions?

'Quick end' needed

Christian Democrat Friedrich Merz, who is vying to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel later this year, argued for a quick end to the lockdown, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. 

“For many small firms, the point has already been reached where there is no way forward…They have to get out of the lockdown as quickly as possible, back to normal business with a hygiene concept,” he told Bild on Monday.

North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister Armin Laschet of Merkel's Christian Democrats told the the Neue Berliner Redaktionsgesellschaft on Monday “If you loosen up too early, you run the risk of things going steeply up again afterwards. We need patience and prudence.” 

He said his hope was that the situation would ease amid the shutdown and roll-out of more vaccinations, the next batch of which is expected to arrive in Germany on Tuesday.

“But if the mutated virus discovered in the UK spreads any further, times will get more serious,” he said.

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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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