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German state sees unprecedented rise in Covid infections among school pupils

The 7-day incidence of Covid-19 infections among young people has spiked to nearly 700 in some areas of Saxony.

German state sees unprecedented rise in Covid infections among school pupils
A school pupil takes a rapid test in Dresden on April 23rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The eastern German state of Saxony has recorded unprecedented Covid-19 infection rates among young people this week, with school-age pupils and teenagers among the worst affected.

In figures released by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for the middle of April, the disease prevention agency revealed that more than 1,600 new cases among teens and children had been recorded in a single week.

In the 15-19 age group, the 7-day incidence of infection stood at 367 per 100,000 residents – a previously unseen rate of infection among under-20s in Germany, reported regional broadcaster MDR on Friday.

READ ALSO: Germany’s BioNTech hopes for 12-15 year olds to receive Covid vaccine from June

Saxony has been one of the worst-hit states in Germany throughout the second and third Covid wave, with consistently high infection rates.

On Friday April 30th the 7-day incidence for the state stood at 210.7 per 100,000 people – the highest out of Germany’s 16 states.

Due to new nationwide ’emergency brake’ measures, which came into force on April 23rd and target areas with high Covid rates, most schools in Saxony were forced to move their classes online from Monday. 

Under the new rules, pupils in areas in Germany with a 7-day incidence of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 residents must be given alternating lessons with smaller class-sizes, while pupils in areas with a 7-day incidence of 165 or more switch to distance learning.

In Chemnitz – one of the most severely affected cities in Saxony – recent figures put the 7-day incidence among 10-14 year olds at almost 700, while in Zwickau, the incidence among 15-19 years olds has spiked to 579. 

Are high rates partly due to increased testing?

Politicians in Saxony have been vocal critics of the emergency brake measures, with state officials expressing “disappointment” that schools had been forced to close. 

Speaking to regional news outlet MDR Saxony, state education minister Christian Piwarz said he doubted that school-age children posed a particularly big threat in the pandemic, blaming the high infection rates on the regular Covid-19 testing carried out in schools. 

“If children and adolescents are the only population group to be tested serially, it’s logical to assume that more positive cases occur than in other population groups,” he said. “If we were to test serially in other population groups, the results of those would also be completely different.”

But scientists disagree that the high figures are entirely due to more testing.

“As before, the majority of the recorded cases in children and young adults aren’t coming from this rapid-test strategy,” Leipzig-based epidemiologist Markus Scholz told MDR. 

In the first few waves of the pandemic, many researchers had assumed that children weren’t major spreaders of Covid-19, but a great deal has changed in light of new variants of the disease, such as the so-called British variant.

READ ALSO: The vaccine effect: Covid-19 hospital admission rate falls in Germany

The Covid-19 incidence among the 5-14 age groups rose exponentially in the six weeks following the reopening of schools in February, Scholz explained.

“No other age group has risen this much,” he added.

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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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