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Should Germany have greater power to enforce Covid-19 rules at a federal level?

In light of inconsistent approaches between Germany's 16 states in stemming the spread of Covid-19, a new parliamentary initiative calls for the country to have more powers in enforcing nationwide measures.

Should Germany have greater power to enforce Covid-19 rules at a federal level?
This cafe in Wernigerode, Saxony-Anhalt prepares to reopen on Friday as part of a statewide initiative to allow outdoor gastronomy with a negative Covid-19 test. Photo: DPA

Some of Germany’s 16 states, such as Saarland, are reopening public life – despite rising Covid-19 numbers – while others, such as Hamburg, are cracking down even further. 

As part of Germany’s federal system, each state has their own approach when it comes to opening, or closing, schools, and which contact restrictions apply.

READ ALSO: Merkel vs Germany’s states: Who really holds the power to fight the pandemic?

In view of the inconsistent approach of the states in combating the pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) parliamentary group in the Bundestag is pushing for greater power at the federal level. 

The aim is to enable uniform measures to be taken nationwide in crisis management. Earlier on Thursday, educators around Germany also called for standardised rules in regards to school openings and testing. 

READ ALSO: German teachers call for uniform Covid rules in schools nationwide

Can the federal government have the same power as the states?

The initiative of MPs Norbert Röttgen, Johann Wadephul and Yvonne Magwas envisages “giving the federal government (additional) powers to act in the same way as the states, namely to ensure the enforcement of the national objectives of the Infection Protection Act by means of a statutory order”.

The three CDU parliamentarians made this proposal in an email to other members of the Union faction, as seen by DPA. 

The proposal comes after the last marathon meeting between Chancellor Merkel and state leaders in March, and ahead of their next meeting on Monday April 12th.

At the last coronavirus summit before the Easter holidays, Merkel called for a strict but brief shutdown, but quickly overturned the decision following criticism from state leaders. 

READ ALSO: Merkel admits Easter coronavirus shutdown plan ‘her mistake alone’

The meeting showed that joint action across the country is “no longer possible,” wrote the three MPs, referring to Germany’s inability to take action at a federal level.

“This revealed the weakness of the Infection Protection Act, which is that this law only authorizes the state governments to issue legal ordinances to fulfill the goals of the law, but not the federal government.” 

This gap in the Infection Protection Act, he said, must be swiftly closed by the Bundestag, they said.

Röttgen, Wadephul and Magwas asked the members of the CDU/CSU group to join their call for action. 

Since faction leader Ralph Brinkhaus (CDU) had also pleaded for uniform nationwide regulations in the past, he is likely to take a positive view of the initiative.

First state reactions

Support came from Germany’s northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein. “I am open to more binding regulations also in the Infection Protection Act for regions with an increasing incidence above 100 (new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days,” said state premier Daniel Günther (CDU) when asked.

“However, in this law, we should get to the root of the problem and focus on the really effective solutions to contain the pandemic.”

The reaction from Lower Saxony was quite different: “At present, I cannot see how more legal federal competencies will lead to better containment of the pandemic – and that must be the concern of us all, after all,” said state premier Stephan Weil (SPD).

Vocabulary

a push – (der) Vorstoß

the weakness – (die) Schwäche

authorised/empowered – ermächtigt

third wave of the pandemic – (die) dritte Pandemiewelle

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. I agree that the Federal Government should have more power in this instance, but it has to then have the right approach. Closing shops etc. is NOT the answer; as people behave there – it is people meeting in private Homes, in Parks, at Night that is the real problem, and that can only be controlled by more foot patrols by the Sicherheitsdienst, with people who KNOW the area, and instant heavy fines for people who break the rules.

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HEALTH

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. 

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