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Is Switzerland really a ‘coronavirus paradise’ compared to Germany?

German tabloid Bild on Sunday compared the coronavirus situation in Germany and Switzerland, reporting that the freedoms in the latter made Switzerland a “coronavirus paradise”. But is it really?

Is Switzerland really a 'coronavirus paradise' compared to Germany?
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

According to a report published on Sunday by German tabloid Bild, the Swiss canton of Zug is a “city of happiness” full of “happy people who have the courage to live”. 

The tabloid, which paid a visit to the central canton of Zug on April 11th, was critical of Germany’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and suggested they should take a leaf out of the book of their southern neighbours. 

In particular, Bild wrote that the rules in Switzerland were much clearer and easier to understand as they were put in place across all of the country’s 26 cantons, unlike the supposed ‘patchwork’ of rules in place in Germany. 

“What is allowed in Switzerland and what is not fits on a beer mat” the tabloid wrote. 

‘It feels like a coronavirus paradise’: The Bild article from April 11th.

Is Switzerland really a coronavirus paradise? 

The report is part of a long-running series by the German tabloid – one of the most persistent critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel – which contrasts the supposed freedom afforded to people in Switzerland with the stricter rules of Germany. 

On closer examination however, the report does gloss over some of the major differences between the two countries. 

First and foremost, while the differences in coronavirus rules from canton to canton may be less significant than they are across German states, this has not always been the case. 

Indeed, for the majority of the pandemic, neighbouring Swiss cantons put in place vastly different rules – leading to concerns of people travelling across borders to go shopping or visit restaurants. 

The current legal situation in Germany and Switzerland is also remarkably similar, in the there are a set of agreed federal minimums, with states free to put in place stricter measures when certain metrics are met – for instance hospitalisations, infection rates and intensive care unit capacity. 

As at April 2021 however, cantonal variations are comparatively minimal – although several Swiss cantons have considered allowing bars and restaurants with terraces to open even without federal approval. 

Are the rules different in Switzerland and Germany? 

Despite the suggestions made in the report, not all rules in Switzerland are more relaxed. Indeed, some are stricter. 

As in Germany, bars and restaurants have been forced to close in Switzerland (other than for takeaway food and drinks) since late December.

The rules on wearing masks is largely the same in Switzerland and Germany, although most areas require an FFP2 mask in the latter rather than a simple cloth or medicinal mask. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current coronavirus measures?

Masks are required for workers in all indoor areas in Switzerland, unlike in Germany, where they are only required in workplaces with “confined spaces”. Also unlike Germany, in Switzerland masks are also required for all car drivers and passengers (unless they all live in the same household). 

Also unlike in Germany, working from home has been mandatory in Switzerland for several months. In Germany, workers are “strongly encouraged” to work from home where possible, however there is no obligation.

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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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