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Germany restricts travel from ‘high-risk’ India

Germany will shut out all travellers arriving from India apart from its own citizens, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Saturday, as a new Covid-19 variant has made the South Asian country the latest coronavirus hotspot.

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Passengers stand in front of a display board in a terminal of the Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich, southern Germany, on April 8, 2021, amid the ongoing novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. Christof STACHE / AFP

“We’re very worried about the new mutation of the virus discovered in India. So as not to endanger our vaccination programme, travel from India has to be significantly limited,” Spahn told the Funke newspaper group.

As of Saturday, April 24th, 22.8 percent of the population had received a first vaccine dose and 7 percent were fully vaccinated with two doses, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

READ ALSO: ‘We won’t be able to vaccinate everybody in June,’ warns German Health Minister

From Monday, only German citizens will be allowed to enter the country when arriving from India, he added. People with German residence permits are also allowed to enter.

But as India is classed as a “virus variant zone”, travellers will have to be tested before departure for Germany and immediately enter a 14-day quarantine on arrival.

Berlin had already dubbed India a “zone with particularly high risk of infection” with effect from Sunday.

Germany is the latest of several countries to restrict travel from India over the new variant, following Canada, Britain and Kuwait.

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German Health Minister Jens Spahn looks up as as he addresses a press conference to inform on the current situation of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in Germany, on April 23, 2021 in Berlin. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / POOL / AFP)

And Manfred Weber, Leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, has called for all flights from India to the EU to be stopped, German daily Bild reported.

Countries have been on high alert for the new “double mutant” variant, known as B.1.617, with several having already suspended flights from India.

More contagious variant?
The World Health Organisation has so far only listed the variant as a “variant of interest”,  but there is concern that vaccines may protect less effectively against this variant because of the two mutations in key areas of the virus’ spike protein.

A “variant of concern” is one that is “suspected” to be either more contagious than the original strain, cause more severe disease, or escape the protection offered by vaccines.

Professor Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian that the arrival of the India variant was potentially worrying.

“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” he said. “It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants.”

However, other experts were less concerned.

“It is not possible to discern a reliable trend from the few observations we have, but we should observe it closely,” Richard Neher, Head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria Research Group at the University of Basel’s Centre of Molecular Life Sciences, according to Stern magazine.

Given the lack of knowledge about the many variants with noteworthy mutations, Neher said he did not believe that the Indian variant deserved any more concern than others.

Christian Drosten, a virologist at Berlin’s Charité teaching hospital, also did not see the new variant as a cause for concern, he said in an NDR podcast at the end of March.

READ ALSO: Germany pulls virus emergency brake but not everyone on board

Germany’s new travel restrictions came as Switzerland reported its first case of the India variant and after Belgian authorities on Thursday said a group of 20 Indian nursing students who arrived from Paris had tested positive for the variant in the country.

India’s healthcare system is meanwhile buckling under a new wave of infections.

On Saturday, Covid-19 case numbers and deaths in the country set another grim new record, while the government is struggling to provide enough oxygen to overwhelmed hospitals.

The number of deaths across India climbed by 2,624 in the 24 hours to Saturday, up from Friday’s 2,263, according to official figures.

A total of almost 190,000 people have died of coronavirus across the country.

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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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