Germany extends shutdown until March 28th – but loosens some measures

Germany’s federal and state governments have extended the country's shutdown until March 28th - but several relaxations of current measures are planned for next Monday.

Germany extends shutdown until March 28th - but loosens some measures
Merkel and Berlin mayor Michael Müller (SPD) took part in the video conference on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 states premiers agreed on the extension during their joint video conference, reported Spiegel Online on Wednesday evening. 

Still, several measures are set to be relaxed from Monday March 8th, reported DPA and Spiegel Online, with most individual states likely to set their own varying rules. 

Contact rules

The possibility of private meetings with friends, relatives and acquaintances will be extended again: gatherings involving members of two households with a maximum of five people will be allowed.

Children up to 14 would not be counted, and all couples will be considered as a household.

The resolution also provides for a so-called emergency brake which would see relaxations reversed. If the so-called 7-day incidence of new Covid-19 infections per 100,000 inhabitants rises to more than 100 on three consecutive days, the stricter rules currently still in force will come into effect again from the second following working day. 

READ ALSO: Is Germany set to reopen public life earlier than planned?

In this case private gatherings would be limited to one household being allowed to meet with one other person – as the rule currently stands.

“In all cases, keeping the number of households with which such gatherings occur as constant and small as possible (‘social bubble’) or having all participants self-test prior to the gathering will significantly help reduce the risk of infection,” the state and federal governments said in their final agreement. 

Germany currently has a 7-day incidence of around 64, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). The country has been in a shutdown which has largely seen public life come to a halt since the beginning of November. The current lockdown was set to end on March 7th. 

ANALYSIS: Merkel faces mounting pressure to relax Covid-19 shutdown

Store reopenings

Garden centres, flower and book stores can also reopen nationwide from March 8th – but under restrictions.

These include hygienic measures and a limit of one customer per ten square metres (for the first 800 square metres of sales area) and one additional customer for every additional 20 square metres of sales area.

Speedier vaccines

The federal and state governments want to speed up the lagging vaccination campaign. Staff at schools and daycare centres (Kitas) are to be given a vaccine at the vaccination centres with immediate effect, as was decided last week.

From the end of March or at the latest at the beginning of April, GPs and specialists in many health practices should also be able to vaccinate more comprehensively than before, DPA learned from several sources at the meeting. 

Individual states will also be able to decide the order in which they vaccinate, but what exactly this entails is still unclear. 

Up to now, vaccination has been carried out mainly in specially built test centres, because the vaccines have to be stored in a special way. However, this won’t always be necessary, as not all vaccines require special storage.

In addition, AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine is expected to be released soon for all age groups. Until now, the vaccine has only been approved for 18- to 64-year-olds, as Germany’s vaccine commission ruled there was a lack of study data for older people.

Free rapid Covid-19 tests are also set to become available for all by the beginning of April. Originally German Health Minister Spahn had promised them by March 1st, and has been criticised when the plan did not come into effect then.

READ ALSO: How Germany’s states are speeding up AstraZeneca jab rollout

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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.