Germany records first case of Brazilian coronavirus strain

Germany has detected its first case of a newly discovered Brazilian coronavirus variant, feared to be particularly infectious, regional health officials in the state of Hesse said Friday.

Germany records first case of Brazilian coronavirus strain
A Covid-19 mask. Photo: DPA

The infected person recently returned from a trip to Brazil and lab tests on Thursday confirmed he had caught the new strain, Hessian Social Affairs Minister Kai Klose told reporters.

Experts from Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) say the Brazilian mutation is similar to the South African variant,  which is seen as more contagious than the original virus.

A third mutation that has emerged in Britain has added to fears about the pandemic, with scientists worrying that these more transmissible variants could turbocharge outbreaks across the globe.

Several countries, including Germany, have already imposed travel restrictions on people from affected nations or are asking for negative Covid-19 tests before departure.

Virologist Sandra Ciesek, one of Germany's best-known coronavirus experts, said Frankfurt's university hospital was informed on Thursday that an infected person was on board a flight from Brazil who was asymptomatic.

A PCR test upon landing reliably showed he had the Brazilian variant of the virus, she said. The probe is still undergoing detailed sequencing, which takes longer.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister says pandemic far from over but hope on the horizon

Brazilian expert Felipe Naveca recently told AFP that the Brazilian strain detected in the state of Amazonas is “very probably” more contagious, just like new strains found in Britain and South Africa.

Naveca said the variant, which the World Health Organization has described as “worrying,” may have spread throughout Brazil and could already be the dominant strain in Amazonas.

Germany has also recorded cases of the British and South African mutations on its soil, but has managed to isolate those cases so far and no large clusters have emerged yet.

Scientists to date do not believe that the new strains lead to more serious cases of Covid-19.

Germany on Friday crossed the mark of 50,000 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

READ ALSO: German virologist Drosten warns of 100,000 daily Covid-19 cases if measures taken away too quickly

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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.