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HEALTH CARE

Everything that changes in Germany in February 2021

From cheaper train tickets to more nursing staff, here are some of the biggest changes in Germany this month.

Everything that changes in Germany in February 2021
Photo: DPA

Will Covid-19 restrictions be relaxed?

February 14th around the world is known for Valentine’s Day (and in many countries Friendship Day). It’s also the day that Germany’s shutdown is set to expire, or at least when restrictions could be relaxed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state leaders are set to discuss the next steps, which will largely be based on the current infection rate and threat of new mutations, at a meeting scheduled for Sunday February 7th.

As we reported, the state of Schleswig-Holstein has put forward a possible plan for the country to leave lockdown based on the infection situation improving.

READ ALSO: Germany extends and tightens partial lockdown until mid-February

 

Deutsche Bahn reduces the price of the Bahncard

From February 1st, an annual Bahncard 25 (meaning a 25 percent discount) for second class will cost €55.70 instead of €62, and an annual Bahncard 50 for second class will then cost €229 instead of €255.

In December ticket prices also went up by 1.5 percent, while many new routes and quicker connections were added.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's new long-distance rail timetable

An ICE 4 train with a symbolic red mask in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Likely tax declaration extension

The tax declaration deadline for 2019 for anyone with a tax advisor (Steuerberater) in Germany was set to be February 28th. However, due to the coronavirus crisis, it’s now set to be extended to August 31st.

That's at least according to a draft bill by the CDU/CSU and SPD which still has to be passed. So far, however, the plans for an extended submission deadline for the 2019 tax return have met with unanimous approval in the Bundestag. Therefore, the chances for it to be signed into legislation are looking good.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about paying taxes in Germany

Tighter security for online shopping

Many consumers buy online with a credit card nowadays – particularly because it is so uncomplicated: card number, verification number and expiry date are enough to pay for goods and services at the virtual checkout.

The problem is, though, that criminals and hackers have a comparatively easy game and can go on shopping sprees on the Internet with stolen customer data without any obstacles.

Therefore, a so-called “two-factor authentication” is supposed to provide more security for online shopping. The stricter security regulations for paying by credit card on the internet will not take full effect until March 15th, but according to new EU rules, the obligation for “customer authentication” is a gradual model:

Since January 15th, payments of €250 or more must be approved with two independent factors, and as of February 15th, “two-factor authentication” will apply to payments of €150 or more.

Lent begins

The end of the carnival season, Ash Wednesday, falls this year on February 17th. For Christians, this day also marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts until Easter. Many people abstain from various things during these seven weeks, including sweets, meat, alcohol and tobacco.

Normally the end of the Carnival season is marked by parades around Germany, such as this famous one in Mainz in February 2019. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Post launches new stamps 

On February 4th, Deutsche Post is launching three new stamps with motifs from the fairy tale “Frau Holle” by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. They are intended to continue the series of Grimm's fairy tales as part of the “For Charity” (Für die Wohlfahrtspflege) series.

The stamps have different postage values and will be sold with a surcharge. The proceeds from these surcharge stamps will benefit social welfare work.

More nursing staff

On February 1st, more nursing staff will join German hospitals in departments such as internal medicine, general surgery, paediatrics (children's and adolescent medicine) and paediatric intensive care, among others. Depending on the department, the number of patients per nurse will be capped at a certain number for day and night shifts.

Under the new regulations, for example, there can be a maximum of six patients per nurse in paediatrics on the day shift, and 10 on the night shift.

In the other areas, the following staffing ratio will apply from February:

  • General surgery and trauma surgery: day shift 10 patients per nurse; night shift 20 patients per nurse.
  • Internal medicine and cardiology: day shift 10 patients per nurse; night shift 22 patients per nurse
  • Cardiac surgery: day shift seven patients per nurse; night shift 15 patients per nurse
  • Neurology: day shift 10 patients per nurse; night shift 20 patients per nurse
  • Neurological stroke unit: day shift three patients per nurse; night shift five patients per nurse
  • Neurological early rehabilitation: day shift five patients per nurse; night shift 12 patients per nurse

WhatsApp postpones introduction of new privacy rules

WhatsApp is postponing the introduction of its new privacy rules by more than three months following heavy criticism and an exodus of users. Previously, consumers had to agree to the new terms by Feburary 8th to continue using the Facebook-owned chat service. Now the new privacy policy will only apply from May 15th, the messaging service announced in a blog post.

WhatsApp wants to use the time to clear up false information and misunderstandings surrounding the update, it says.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

Everything that changes in Germany in 2022

There are several important changes taking place in day-to-day life in Germany next year. There is good news on electricity bills, a streamlined unemployment system and also some tax hikes.

A conductor gives a departure signal for an ICE train on the platform at Berlin Central Station.
A conductor gives a departure signal for an ICE train on the platform at Berlin Central Station. Photo: dpa | Carsten Koall

These are some of the changes most likely to affect the lives of internationals living in Germany.

Jump in minimum wage

The national minimum wage is set to rise at least twice in the following twelve months from a current level of €9.60 per hour.

On January 1st it will go up to €9.82 and then it will go up to €10.45 on July 1st.

The new government wants to raise the minimum wage to €12 an hour by the end of the year. But that move is likely to face a legal challenge from employers’ associations.

READ MORE: German employers weigh up legal challenge to €12 minimum wage

Stamp price increase

Deutsche Post is increasing its postage rates on January 1st. A standard letter will cost 85 cents instead of 80 cents, and the cost of sending a postcard will go up to 70 cents from 60 cents.

Older driving licenses updated

Many local authorities are expecting a rush of people handing in old driver’s licenses in exchange for new ones in the coming weeks. By 2033, all driver’s licenses issued before 2013 need to be exchanged for a standard EU document.

German drivers licence

Two driver’s licenses lie on a table. By 2033, all driver’s licenses issued before 2013 must be exchanged. Photo: dpa | Ole Spata

But the deadline is staggered based on people’s age. Those born between 1953 and 1958 have to hand in their old licences by January 19th, 2020.

Surveys suggest that many people still haven’t done this. Anyone who lets the deadline pass risks an initial ‘warning’ fine of ten euros. 

Extended warranty

Anyone who buys a product that later turns out to be defective will be better protected starting in January. At the start of the year the legal presumption that a defect existed at the time of purchase will be extended from six months to one year.

Drop in renewable energy levy

Wind turbines

Two technicians from Sabowind GmbH maintain an Enercon E92 wind turbine in Saxony. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

There’s some good news for households struggling to pay their electricity bills. The levy to finance green electricity – the EEG levy – will fall to 3.723 cents per kilowatt hour at the turn of the year, a drop of more than 40 percent.

The cut to the levy will probably only stabilise the price though. On the back of surging energy costs, electricity suppliers’ costs have gone up and they and are passing them on to the customer.

Pfand on all plastic bottles

On January 1st, the mandatory deposit on plastic bottles (known in German as the Pfand) will be extended to all drinks in plastic bottles. 

People can collect the 25 cent deposit by returning the empty bottle to a bottle bank.

End to ticket sales on trains

As of January 1st, you will no longer be able to buy a ticket from the conductor on Deutsche Bahn services. Travellers can still by a digital ticket within ten minutes of departure via the bahn.de website or on the Deutsche Bahn app.

Higher fuel prices

The CO2 tax, introduced last year, will also rise in 2022, going up from 25 euros per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted to 30 euros. The tax is aimed at pushing energy companies towards using using renewable technologies, but it is also likely to be handed down to consumers in the form of fuel price rises.

According to calculations by the ADAC automobile club, petrol and diesel are likely to become more expensive by about one and a half cents per litre each as a result.

Hitting smokers’ pockets

A woman pulls a cigarette out of a pack.

A woman pulls a cigarette out of a pack. Photo: dpa | Sven Hoppe

On January 1st, the tobacco tax will go up for the first time in seven years. It will rise by an average of 10 cents for a pack of 20 cigarettes. In 2023, another 10 cents will be added per 20-pack.

Billboard advertising for conventional tobacco products such as cigarettes will be banned from January 1st.

Prohibiting ‘potentially dangerous’ tattoo ink

From January 4th, many chemicals in tattoo inks throughout the EU will be subject to restrictions under the so-called REACH regulation. The ban list will include thousands of substances.

In the EU’s view, many of them are potentially dangerous or have not been sufficiently researched. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) emphasizes that the aim is to “make tattoo inks and permanent makeup safer.”

Compulsory vaccines in care

People employed in the care sector will have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want to keep their jobs next year. The vaccine mandates apply to carers, doctors, midwives and nurses and will come into force in on March 15th, 2022.

Those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons will need an exemption from their doctor.

There is also likely to be a parliamentary debate on introducing a general vaccine mandate in January – a move that the German Ethics Council has recommended – so watch this space.

READ ALSO: German Ethics Council recommends extending vaccine mandates

Tightening rules around mini jobs

In an attempt to stop exploitation of “mini-job” rules, the government will require employers to give more details on a mini-jobber such as their tax ID number starting in January 1st. The Minijob-Zentrale will inform the employer wether the employee has another mini-job.

Mini-jobs are part-time contracts that allow people to earn up to €450 a month without paying social security contributions. While someone can have more than one mini job at a time they are not allowed to earn more than €450 in total.

Unemployment registration goes online

Jobcenter Germany

A sign in front of an employment agency location in the Hannover region. Photo: dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

As of January 1st people who sign on for unemployment benefits can do so online using the Agentur für Arbeit website. But one needs a digital ID card to do so.

It will still be possible to sign on by going to your local employment agency.

End to subsidies for plug-in hybrids

Many hybrid cars will no longer benefit from government subsidies from 2022 onwards. A change to the law means that subsidies will only apply to cars with an electric range of at last 60 kilometres.

Ban on thin plastic bags

As of January 1st, plastic shopping bags will no longer be offered at German supermarket checkouts.

The ban applies to super-thin shopping bags. Bags for vegetables and multiple use plastic bags will not be affected.

Higher allowance for children of separated parents

Children of divorced couples will entitled to slightly more maintenance in the new year.

From January 1st, the minimum maintenance for children of separated parents under six years of age will be 396 euros per month, an increase of three euros.

For children aged six to eleven, the minimum maintenance will be 455 euros, an increase of four euros. For children aged 12 to 17, the payment will increase by five euros to 533 euros per month.

SEE ALSO: The best events and festivals in Germany in 2022

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