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What employees in Germany should know about quarantine compensation

Germany's state health ministers have agreed to scrap quarantine compensation for unvaccinated employees from November 1st. Here's what you need to know.

What employees in Germany should know about quarantine compensation
A campaigner holds up a sign stating "I don't want a vaccination." in Dresden on May 16th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

So far in the Covid pandemic, the German state has stepped in to reimburse lost earnings for those who have to go into quarantine – but a number of states have long been unhappy with this. 

READ ALSO: Unvaccinated workers in Germany could lose pay if ordered into quarantine

In September, the state health ministers agreed to go back to existing legislation that allows them to cut off reimbursements for those who choose not get vaccinated. So, what new rules come in on November 1st? Here’s what we know so far. 

Which cases of quarantine are we talking about?

If you’ve potentially come into contact with an infected person and might have contracted Covid, your local health authority can order you to go into quarantine – meaning you can’t go into the office or workplace.

If you get contacted by your local health ministry after visiting a venue that had a Covid breakout, you may have to quarantine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

This is increasingly becoming an issue for people who have not yet been vaccinated, since the requirement to go into quarantine generally doesn’t apply to those who’ve got their jabs. 

Who has paid the compensation so far and who has received it?

So far, workers who have suffered financial losses from having to go into quarantine can get compensation from the government. In concrete terms, the employer makes an advance payment to the employee and can then apply to have the money reimbursed by the state.

As the Federal Ministry of Health explains, full compensation can be granted for up to six weeks. At the beginning of the seventh week, the employee receives up to 67 percent of the loss of earnings, with a cap of €2,016 for the full month of work. 

What changes are being made?

Germany’s Infection Protection Act already contains exceptions for non-vaccinated people – it has just hasn’t been applied yet.

Specifically, it states that there is no entitlement to compensation if quarantine could have been avoided by a publicly recommended vaccination. The same applies if one has made an “avoidable trip” to a Covid risk area with high infection rates abroad and must then go into quarantine after returning.

Germany will now enforce this rule nationwide from November 1st, 2021.

What’s the argument against compensation?

A bit like the decision to scrap free rapid tests, those in favour of getting rid of compensation for these ‘avoidable’ quarantines say that everyone who wants one will by now have had a chance to get their Covid shots. If they choose not to take the offer, why should the state continue to finance their time off work? 

Bavaria’s head of department Klaus Holetschek, who also happens to be chairman of the health ministers’ conference, is one of the prominent politicians taking this view. Speaking to ARD in September, he said he saw no reason why compensation costs had to be shouldered by the taxpayer if there were no health reasons against vaccination. 

READ ALSO: Doctors in Germany can continue to grant sick leave by phone

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) agrees. “I don’t see why others should pay in the long run if someone doesn’t opt for free vaccination even though they could,” he told DPA. 

Were any states doing this before November?

Yes, they were. States are ultimately free to go their own way on issues like this, though the ideal situation is that they all manage to agree on a united front – which is what Wednesday’s meeting will be all about. 

So far, Baden-Württemberg’s has been the only state to stop compensation for the unvaccinated. This rule came in on September 15th, with the state government explaining that by mid-September everyone had had a chance to be vaccinated.

There are, of course, exceptions for people who can’t get vaccinated due to medical reasons – which might people who have had cancer treatment and others with illnesses that impact their immune systems.

On October 1st, Rhineland-Palatinate followed Baden-Württemburg in implementing the new rule, while Bremen and North Rhine-Westphalia also changed their legislation in October.

READ ALSO: German vaccine panel to recommend Covid jabs for pregnant women

But what if someone actually gets ill with Covid?

That’s a different matter entirely. 

“It is about wage compensation for contact persons of infected persons in quarantine – not about continued payment of wages in case of illness,” a spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Health told DPA. “Anyone who becomes infected is sick and is entitled to it.”

So if a worker falls ill with Covid-19, he or she will continue to be paid – even if unvaccinated.

Is anyone criticising the move?

As with all decisions to remove certain rights or privileges from the unvaccinated, the move is naturally controversial. 

Reiner Hoffmann, president of the German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB), had strong words to say about the states forging ahead with the change.

Reiner Hoffmann, president of the German Federation of Trade Unions, believes that the changes could have far-reaching implications to labour laws in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marius Becker

The decision to scrap reimbursement amounted to “compulsory vaccination through the back door,” he told Deutschlandfunk. In his view, the conflict over compulsory Covid vaccination could end up being shifting into the realm of industrial relations – with far-reaching consequences for Germany’s labour laws.

How many people could this affect?

According to the latest government data, as of Monday, 66.7 percent of people in Germany were fully vaccinated, while 69.4 percent had been given at least one dose. 

However, this is the figure for the entirely of the population – which includes a large number of people who aren’t of working age. In the 18-59 year old age bracket, around 73 percent of people are fully vaccinated, while 85.3 percent of over-60s are.

Since people generally work until their mid-60s in Germany, we can assume that just under a quarter of working-age people might be affected by the change.  

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Omicron vaccines to arrive in Germany in September, says Health Minister

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says vaccines adapted to target the Covid variant Omicron could arrive in Germany in September.

Omicron vaccines to arrive in Germany in September, says Health Minister

During a press conference on Friday, Lauterbach said that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would approve the adapted vaccine for the BA1 subvariant of Omicron as early as September 1st. That means the vaccine could be delivered to Germany in early September.

Later in the month, European authorities will deal with the vaccine for the BA5 subvariant, which could then be delivered to Germany at the end of September. 

This means that the vaccines should be available just in time for the new Infection Protection Act, which is scheduled to come into force in Germany on October 1st.

Lauterbach said the government’s vaccination campaign for the Omicron booster shots is being prepared and will start “promptly”.

“The federal government has procured both vaccines in sufficient quantities,” he said. “We will therefore be supplied relatively early.”

The initial aim will be for risk groups to get the jab, if they haven’t had one recently. Health officials in Germany have been pushing for risk groups, such as older people, to get a fourth vaccination as soon as possible, rather than wait for the adapted vaccines.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Can I get a second booster jab in Germany?

Lauterbach recently told German media that others in Germany – such as those who have “a lot of contacts” should consider getting a second booster shot in some cases. That could apply to people who work in bars, for instance. Lauterbach recommended that these people talk to their family doctor. 

The general rule is that doctors do not have to vaccinate someone against Covid-19 if there is no official recommendation to do so. However, anyone can get the jab – free of charge – if they discuss it and agree with their doctor. 

The Local has asked for extra clarification from the Health Ministry on who should get an adapted vaccine when they arrive. 

Debate over mask rules for autumn

The Health Minister also talked about the planned new Covid protection laws and defended the proposals. They are set to be voted on and will come into force from October 1st.

Under the plans masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to keep measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport in place.

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

States will also have the choice to introduce compulsory masks in venues such as restaurants and bars – but there will be exemptions to wearing a mask for people who have recently been vaccinated (those jabbed in the previous three months), recovered or tested against Covid. 

Lauterbach said he believed that all states would introduce these extra restrictions because numbers would rise in autumn. 

Earlier this week some politicians said the exception to the mask rule did not make sense.

But Lauterbach said it would be safer if there were more freshly-vaccinated, recovered or tested people sitting in a restaurant than simply issuing a general mask requirement – because masks are removed when sitting down. 

The Health Minister also said that he didn’t think this would mean people would try to get vaccinated regularly just so they didn’t have to wear a mask. 

“It is not the case that vaccinations are given every three months,” Lauterbach said. He said the period of time for this exception could also change in future depending on research. 

Lauterbach said there are plans for the digital proof of vaccination or recovery on the Corona Warn app to be colour-coded to make it easier for venue bosses to check proof quickly. 

The Health Minister also said public facilities in Germany had managed to check 3G measures in the past. In previous Covid waves, people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a test to enter a venue, which is known as the 3G rules.

Commenting on the current situation, Lauterbach said there was a “favourable development” as Germany appears to be getting over the summer Covid wave. 

“The summer wave is now slowly starting to recede,” the SPD politician said. 

READ ALSO: Germany has passed peak of Covid summer wave, says RKI 

The number of Covid deaths are also going down, but is not yet “where we would like it to be”, Lauterbach said. And he warned that when there are more indoor contacts due to the cooler weather in autumn, as well as schools going back, the situation could change again.