Germany mulls easing virus curbs for vaccinated people

Germany plans to ease some of the current coronavirus restrictions for people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a draft text drawn up by the government and seen by AFP at the weekend.

Germany mulls easing virus curbs for vaccinated people
Photo: Hauke-Christian Dittrich / POOL / AFP

The proposal is to be discussed at a meeting on Monday by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and the powerful regional state premiers.

According to the draft text, it was a question not of awarding people with proven immunity any special privileges, but of “lifting curbs on their basic rights that are no longer justified”.

The debate comes as Germany is struggling to tame a third wave of coronavirus infections, and just 22 percent of Germans have had their first of two Covid-19 jabs.

Under the proposed relaxations, people who are fully vaccinated would no longer have to show a recent negative coronavirus test to enter certain shops, get a haircut or attend certain events.

They would also be exempt from quarantining after returning from abroad, unless they were coming from a country classed as a high-risk virus variant area such as India.

Rules on social distancing and mask-wearing would still apply to everyone. German politicians from across the political spectrum have come out in favour of giving vaccinated people more freedoms.

The German Ethics Council, which helped shape the country’s vaccine priority groups, said it was becoming harder to justify the restrictions in the face of growing evidence that those vaccinated no longer play a significant role in spreading the virus.

Giving the same treatment to people who test negative, are vaccinated or even those who can show they have recovered from Covid and allow them “to access restaurants or shops is ethically unproblematic”, council chair Alena Buyx told the Tagesspiegel daily on Sunday.

‘Emergency brake’

New nationwide legislation went into force on Saturday that imposes tougher restrictions in regions with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period for three consecutive days, which currently includes huge swathes of Germany.

Merkel had pushed hard for the “emergency brake” rules to become legally binding after many regional leaders refused to take unpopular measures, despite rapidly rising case numbers.

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

The new law includes a controversial 10pm-5am curfew and stricter rules for social gatherings and store openings. If the incidence rate climbs above 165, schools must revert to online lessons.

The legislation also explicitly allows for “exceptions to be granted to those considered immune”, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told the Handelsblatt business daily on Saturday.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is running to succeed Merkel in September’s general elections, said Germany should go even further and draw up plans for a phased reopening of the country as the vaccination pace picks up speed.

“By the end of May, we should be able to make reliable predictions. I want us, as a government, to commit to clear and brave steps towards reopening,” he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Can I get the AstraZeneca vaccine in Germany if I’m not on a priority list?

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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.