German leaders to discuss tougher Covid restrictions

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor in waiting Olaf Scholz will hold urgent talks on Tuesday with leaders of Germany's 16 states on toughening restrictions to halt a surge of coronavirus infections, sources told AFP.

Chancellor in waiting Olaf Scholz and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bundestag
Chancellor in waiting Olaf Scholz and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bundestag on November 18th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Europe’s biggest economy has over the last weeks began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 or recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

Several of the worst-hit areas have gone further, cancelling large events like Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.

But with infections shooting to new records day after day, calls have grown louder for further restrictions. 

On Monday, Germany’s weekly infection rate soared to another all-time high of 452.4 per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

As Germany’s states have significant powers to decide their own restrictions, the country has often found itself with a patchwork of rules.

READ ALSO: The latest Covid rules in each German state

What’s on the agenda at the talks?

At their talks on Tuesday, the leaders are to discuss a planned verdict from the Federal Constitutional Court on the so-called emergency brake.

The mechanism allows far-reaching measures like curfews or school closures to be undertaken when infection rates reach certain levels.

While the emergency brake has since been replaced by other regulations, the leading politicians are expecting the court to provide its view on measures such as contact restrictions and curfews.

Such measures could yet be deployed in the ongoing battle against the pandemic.

Other restrictions to be discussed will be the 2G-plus rule (meaning people have to be vaccinated or recovered and also present a negative Covid test) for events both inside and outside, a general closure of clubs, as well as capacity limits for Bundesliga football matches.

The discussions come as Germany’s weekly infection rate soared to another new high of 452.4 per 100,000 people over the last seven days on Monday. 

There are worries over the new Omicron variant of Covid which has prompted travel restrictions.

READ ALSO: Germany must be prepared for Omicron variant, warns top virologist

The video call between German leaders is scheduled for 1pm. However, a planned conference of the state premiers is still set to take place on December 9th, according to sources. 

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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.