Germany pulls virus ’emergency brake’ but not everyone on board

Germans are facing tougher nationwide Covid-19 measures from Saturday, including night curfews and school closures, after the government passed a disputed new law designed to slow infections.

The empty menu display of a closed restaurant is seen in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district on April 17, 2021 amid the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. DAVID GANNON / AFP

With many of its neighbours lifting restrictions despite higher virus rates, Europe’s biggest economy is bucking the trend with the new national law dubbed the “emergency brake”.

Passed amid huge protests in Berlin this week, the law prescribes uniform national restrictions and is designed to end a tug of war between the federal government and Germany’s 16 states.

However, the law faces criticism from some quarters.

Conservative daily Die Welt called the new law “an authoritarian fig leaf” designed to conceal failures of strategy, vaccination and testing”.

The liberal, pro-business FDP party has vowed to take legal action to have it overturned, with party chief Christian Lindner calling it “unconstitutional”.

With Munich confirmed on Friday as a host city for the upcoming Euro 2020 football championship – which starts in June – the new law means that whether fans will be allowed to attend will ultimately depend on the infection rates then.

The mayor of Munich said there was no “guarantee”, contradicting a UEFA statement that the southern German city would host “a minimum of 14,500 spectators” at its four games.

Munich on Friday had an incidence rate of 148.2.

The tough measures will apply from Saturday in all regions with incidence rates of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over the last seven days and include sweeping shutdowns and overnight curfews.

Eight German states had an incidence rate above 165 on Friday, with the national average hovering at 164.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new ’emergency brake’ Covid restrictions come into force Saturday 

The new restrictions have also caused confusion on the question of travel through areas with high incidence rates.

“Anyone who does not want to commit an administrative offence may not cross the affected districts by car, train or even plane during the curfew,” the FDP’s Wolfgang Kubicki told the Bild daily.

Virus restrictions in Germany had previously been decided in consultations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of the 16 states, with the regions ultimately responsible for implementing them.

But in many cases, regional leaders have failed to put in place shutdown measures which they agreed with Merkel, with many choosing broad interpretations of the rules.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute health agency reported 27,543 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours on Friday and 265 deaths, with the agency’s Lars Schaade warning the numbers were “still too high”.

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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.