German virologist says UK’s falling Covid cases despite lifting restrictions gives ‘hope’

A high-profile German virologist says the UK, which is seeing falling Covid cases despite lifting almost all measures last month, gives hope to Germany.

German virologist says UK's falling Covid cases despite lifting restrictions gives 'hope'
People partying in London on 'Freedom Day' on July 19th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Alberto Pezzali

Covid cases in Germany have been rising since the first week of July, prompting fears that the fourth Covid wave will get out of control. On Monday 1,183 Covid infections were reported within 24 hours, and two deaths. The 7-day incidence rose to 23.1 cases per 100,000 people.

But Hamburg-based virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, says the development in the UK following the relaxation of Covid measures gives hope for the future.

IN NUMBERS: How the fourth Covid wave in Germany is developing

“The development in the UK shows that you can’t just say, ‘If we lift almost all the measures, everything will get out of hand.’ We are now seeing exactly the opposite,” he told DPA.

He said that the situation could not be replicated in other countries because there are lots of varying factors. “But that does give us hope that vaccinations can achieve something like this, that despite the lifting of almost all measures, we are also seeing falling case numbers and no overloading of the healthcare system,” said Schmidt-Chanasit.

The UK government rolled back nearly all Covid restrictions on July 19th as part of so-called ‘Freedom Day’ and appealed to citizens to take personal responsibility – despite sharply rising case numbers.

At the time, 68 percent of adults had received at least one shot, and 53 percent were fully vaccinated. However, since mid-July, Covid cases have been generally falling across the UK, although we’re yet to see how long this will last.

Schmidt-Chanasit advised caution for Germany. “The task of politics is, after all, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated and to continue to work on making vaccination services even more accessible,” he said. But, “In terms of restricting fundamental rights, this is certainly a turning point where you have to think carefully: can we continue to restrict fundamental rights?” 

As of Monday, around 54.8 percent of the population in Germany had been fully vaccinated, while 62.4 percent have had at least one shot.

It comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to meet with state leaders on Tuesday to discuss Germany’s strategy in autumn. 

READ ALSO: Germany divided over whether to charge for Covid tests 

Masks needed ‘for years’

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Health Committee in the German Bundestag, Erwin Rüddel, expects that face masks will be used for years to come.

“The mask will continue to help shape our lives in the next five years,” the CDU politician told Deutschlandfunk radio. However, he said the aim was for “common sense” rather than regulations. 

At the same time, Rüddel advocated a return to social normality as soon as possible.

“We have now been in a state of emergency for almost two years and must learn to become normal again,” he said. 

READ ALSO: Germany considers tougher rules for the unvaccinated in autumn – but ‘drastic lockdown unlikely’

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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.