Merkel seeks to extend Covid-19 measures as Germans grumble

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek to extend strict curbs to fight the pandemic until at least the end of February at crunch talks this week, party sources said Tuesday.

Merkel seeks to extend Covid-19 measures as Germans grumble
Angela Merkel on February 3rd. Photo: DPA

As fatigue grows with the partial lockdown in Europe's top economy, Merkel advised against any loosening of the measures before March 1st.

“We would gain nothing if we left lockdown prematurely,” Merkel told members of her CDU party according to meeting participants, ahead of talks Wednesday to set policy on the restrictions.

She said first steps toward a reopening could begin in early March with schools and nurseries, shops and hairdressers but only with clear rules to prevent the spread of the virus.

Otherwise, she argued, “the infection rates could soar again”, the sources quoted her as saying.

The veteran chancellor expressed understanding for “the difficult situation and great challenges for children, families and retailers” but asked for patience to avoid an endless cycle of openings and shutdowns.

Although a majority of Germans still back Merkel's science-based management of the crisis, weariness is setting in after three long winter months of restrictions and amid a sluggish vaccine rollout.

READ ALSO: Should Germany's lockdown be tightened further over virus variants

As the campaign for a general election in September to replace the outgoing Merkel begins to take shape, raising the political stakes, a YouGov poll this week showed that just half of Germans wanted current measures to be maintained or tightened.

That was down from nearly 65 percent in early January, when new daily infections were still near 20,000 with roughly 1,000 deaths a day reported.

Since then, new Covid-19 cases have dropped considerably and the seven-day incidence rate — the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past week — has fallen below 75 for the first time since November.

But deaths remain troublingly high at nearly 500 per day.

'Turbo' mutations

“We are over the worst of the second wave, but it is not over, of course,” Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert warned Monday.

The country closed restaurants, hotels, culture and leisure centres in November, followed by schools and non-essential shops in December. The measures have since been extended until February 14th.

Merkel and her advisors are nervously eyeing an uncontrolled spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants from Britain and South Africa which they fear could rapidly wipe out any progress made in fighting the pandemic.

Officials have called such “turbo” mutations, both of which have been detected in Germany, a “genuine threat”.

While Merkel's popularity soared due to her steady handling of the coronavirus outbreak and is still hovering at around 70 percent, only 55 percent of Germans said last week they were satisfied with her government's policies on the pandemic.

That figure was down five points since January and the lowest rating since the shutdown measures began last March.

No 'miracle cure'

The relatively slow distribution of vaccines within the EU has done much to sap good will, with 57 percent of Germans saying they don't believe Merkel's pledge that everyone who wants the jab will get one by the end of September.

The YouGov survey found that 19 percent blamed Merkel's government for the delays, 17 percent the EU and 11 percent the manufacturers. One-third of respondents said each shared equal responsibility.

The powerful Federation of German Industry (BDI) expressed exasperation with the government's incremental measures, demanding a “clear” roadmap with “fair” criteria for reopening the economy.

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said the German decision-making was complicated by a look around Europe, where even countries with much higher infection rates and death tolls had granted their citizens greater freedoms.

“Hairdressers are opening in Austria, shoppers are thronging the Champs-Elysees in Paris, as cinemas reopen in Belgium,” it said, while adding that “no country has really found the miracle cure to all of this”.

READ ALSO: Calls grow for Germany to offer 'step by step' plan out of lockdown

By Deborah COLE and Peter WUETHERICH

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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.