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COVID-19

What can we expect from Merkel’s Covid talks with state leaders?

After a summer break, Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet with state leaders on Tuesday to figure out how Germany will handle the Covid situation in autumn. Here are a few topics on the table.

What can we expect from Merkel's Covid talks with state leaders?
People sitting in Berlin on Monday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

With Germany seeing a surge in Covid cases, Merkel and the 16 federal state leaders will be discussing what action should be taken. And if – or when – tougher Covid rules should be brought in, and who they will apply to. 

Politicians are divided on the question of whether or not unvaccinated people will have to accept more restrictions in the future, and what this will look like. 

While a strict shutdown like the ones we’ve seen in the second and third Covid waves are unlikely due to the amount of people who are vaccinated, tougher measures could still be put in place. 

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

Merkel and the state premiers will also be thinking about how to get as many people vaccinated as possible. 

When will restrictions be introduced?

Up to this point, German states and the government have been using the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 to measure when to bring more rules in. For instance, the emergency brake measures – which included a curfew – were brought in when areas reached 100 Covid cases per 100,000 people.

But now that risk groups are protected through vaccination, authorities want to consider other factors for deciding measures such as hospital admissions.

The Tagesschau reported that one aim of the meeting will be to find a new assessment framework for the Covid situation that goes beyond incidence.

CSU state group leader Alexander Dobrindt said: “Incidence as the sole measure of all things has had its day.”

READ ALSO: Germany to focus more on hospital admissions when deciding measures

Will a nationwide ‘health pass’ be introduced?

People in Germany already need to show they are vaccinated, have recovered from Covid, or have tested negatively to do some things, such as going to the gym. But this varies depending on the region. 

The so-called 3G rule, which stands for: geimpft (vaccinated) genesen (recovered) and getestet (tested), could be expanded in similar ways to other countries like France and Italy. That could see people need a ‘health pass’ to enter bars, cafes or tourist sites. 

READ ALSO: Is Germany set to introduce a ‘health pass’?

Will Germany take a hard line against unvaccinated people?

Politicians on Tuesday will also discuss if 3G could turn into 2G if the Covid infection rate rises dramatically – that means that you would only be able to access some activities if you’re vaccinated or have recovered from Covid. 

However, this point in the Health Ministry’s draft paper has proved particularly controversial already. 

READ ALSO: Is Germany set to introduce a ‘health pass’?

North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet (CDU) made it clear that he rejects this move.

“Anyone who has been vaccinated, recovered or tested must not be excluded by the state from participating in social life,” the CDU/CSU candidate for chancellor told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. The 3G rule is “sensible,” Laschet said.

However, Ralph Brinkhaus, chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, said the rights of vaccinated people needed to be taken into consideration.

“What I’m experiencing at the moment is that the vaccinated are angry at the non-vaccinated,” said Brinkhaus. “The vaccinated made appointments, went out and put up with the fact that they didn’t feel so well the day after they got vaccinated. And they’re now experiencing that they still can’t fully get their freedoms back.”

A teenager being vaccinated in Bremen recently. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

He said he expects that hoteliers, clubs and event organisers will only allow vaccinated people into their establishments in the future.

Left-wing parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch slammed the plans.

“The proposals from the Ministry of Health are poisoning the social climate and dividing the country,” he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

Instead, the federal government should push ahead with the vaccination campaign, bring vaccinations into people’s everyday lives in intelligent ways – “and not pave the way for a Covid-related two-class society,” Bartsch said. 

An end to free rapid Covid tests?

The Health Ministry has also proposed charging people for Covid rapid tests in future once everyone has had the chance to get vaccinated. 

This would have a huge impact for people who choose not to get vaccinated – because everyone needs to show a negative rapid test, or proof of vaccination/recovery, to take part in some aspects of public life – and this could become more common if the government decides to tighten those rules (as we mentioned above).

Getting rid of free tests also impact anyone – including vaccinated people – who uses the free tests before travelling abroad or monitoring their infection status. 

There’s also a lot of disagreement on this topic which you can check out in our story:

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

What else will Merkel and state leaders discuss?

When looking at Germany’s Covid strategy for the colder months, politicians will also think about schools, how to keep the economy thriving and travel. 

They may also look at economic support for businesses and freelancers, as well as the Kurzarbeit (reduced working hours) scheme. 

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil recently said the scheme would be extended until the end of the year. 

No ‘patchwork rules’ across states

Whatever happens on Tuesday, many in Germany have called for the states and federal government to agree a line together to avoid confusion and a patchwork of measures that are difficult to follow. 

Districts need to be able to plan for the future, Chief Executive of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, said.

“We must not start weaving new patchwork quilts,” he said.

Meanwhile the German Tourism Association urged the government to make sure there is no new lockdown. 

In an open letter, tourist representatives said that now the majority of people in Germany had been vaccinated they wanted to see “reliable working conditions for our industry again.. instead of discussing restrictions on travelling again even when the level of infection is low”.

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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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