The 14 words that even Germans had to learn during the pandemic

It's not just foreigners who have had to add to their lexicon as the pandemic spread across Germany over past 12 months. Locals and internationals alike have also had to internalise a new vocabulary, as the pandemic has up-ended their so many aspects of their lives.

The 14 words that even Germans had to learn during the pandemic
The Notbremse has been given a new meaning. Photo: DPA

Never a country known for a love of small talk, meaningless chatter in Germany has been reduced even further over the past months – meaning it hasn’t been the best time to practise your German skills.

But if you have had one conversation, it is likely to have been about the pandemic.

Here is the vocabulary you need to be able to keep up with when talk inevitably turns to the virus.

Aerosole (aerosols) – The tiny particles produced when you cough, sneeze or speak. Because the virus is transmitted via these little particles that circulate in the air, health experts recommend that you regularly open the windows to ensure that fresh air circulates through the room.

READ ALSO: Lüften: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out rooms

Abstandsregeln (distancing rules) – The rules on social distancing have meant that German speakers have had to start using the term Abstandregel to describe keeping distance in various contexts.

Bund-Länder-Runde – This is the informal meeting of the federal government with state leaders at which new lockdown measures are agreed upon. It happens every couple of weeks and is controversial among opposition politicians due to the fact that it is not an official constitutional body.

Dritte-Welle (third wave) – The plotted curve of viral infections resembles a wave. The rise begins gently but become ever steeper. The first wave occurred in spring, the second came in autumn. The Robert Koch Institute says the country is already in a third wave. 

Einkaufswagenpflicht (shopping trolley obligation) – Many supermarkets have decided to control the number of people entering their stores by only allowing people in if they have a shopping trolley. The result is this beautifully German word.

READ MORE: The new German words that perfectly describe the coronavirus pandemic

Impfpflicht (mandatory vaccines) – A particularly hard word to say, as it repeats the unusual “pf” consonant combination. One of the most heated debates of the crisis has been over whether to make vaccines mandatory. Germans leaders have frequently reaffirmed the position that vaccines would not be made mandatory.  Still, initiatives like the Impfpass (vaccine passport) have led to accusations of an Impfpflicht through the back door.

Kontaktnachverfolgung (contact tracing) – Early in the pandemic, Germany was praised for the efficiency of its contact tracing regime, which helped keep cases low. In the autumn though, cases rose so fast the the Gesundeitsämter (local health agencies) couldn’t keep up.

Lieferengpässe (delivery bottlenecks) – Another key plank of the pandemic response that hasn’t worked is the purchase and delivery of vaccines. While other western countries, such as Israel, the UK and the USA, have speedily rolled out vaccines, Germany is lagging behind. Due to a lack of supplies and logistical problems with deliveries to test centres, the word Lieferengpässe has cropped up repeatedly in the press.

Maskenverweigerer (mask refusnik) – The people who refuse to wear masks in confined spaces. Unfortunate ticket collectors on trains have faced constant abuse from these people, some of it violent. 

Notbremse (emergency brake) – Merkel faced sustained pressure in late February to start lifting the restrictions. The cautious Chancellor eventually conceded, but added a Notbremse into the plans in case cases began to rise again too quickly.

Öffnungsperspektive (opening perspective) – As the lockdown drags on, businesses in the retail and gastronomy sectors are becoming increasingly worried about whether they will be able to survive. They have been demanding that Merkel offer them an Öffnungsperspektive: a definitive timeline for when their businesses can start operating again.

Reproduktionszahl (R-value) – This is a number published by the Robert Koch Institute which estimates how rapidly the virus is spreading at any given moment. If the number is above one, that’s bad news. If it’s below one, the virus is on the wane (at least temporarily). 

READ ALSO: The ultimate A-Z guide of German coronavirus terms

Sieben-Tage-Inzidenz (7-day incidence) – This is another key value used by decision makers and refers to the number of positive tests per 100,000 inhabitants over the past week. Restrictions can only start being lifted at a value under 50.

Versammlungsverbot (ban on gathering) – Another controversial aspect of the coronavirus rules has been the restrictions placed on one of Germany’s key constitutional rights – the right to protest. Critics say this shouldn’t be restricted at a time when the executive branch of government has so much power. The government says it is necessary in order to stop superspreader events.

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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.