German politicians float shorter quarantine times for Omicron wave

German health ministers are considering shortening the mandatory 14-day isolation for people who've had contact with someone infected with Omicron - or dropping it entirely for those who've had a booster jab.

Karl Lauterbach
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a press conference on December 22nd, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

New Covid-19 quarantine rules could be on the way for German residents later this week.

On Friday, the federal and state governments will meet to discuss whether isolation periods for people who test positive for COVID—19 should be shortened. Boosted people who have had contact with someone who has tested positive may also be exempted from quarantine altogether.

In a Sunday evening television interview with RTL/ntv, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach stressed that any new changes to quarantine rules are still under discussion between the federal and state governments, with no final decisions expected until they meet on Friday.

The debate on shortening quarantine comes after the federal government’s expert council voiced concerns that critical German infrastructure, including hospitals and emergency crews, could come under too much strain if too many people had to quarantine at the same time. Spain, Portugal, and the UK have already shortened their isolation times from ten days to seven—as long as those infected are asymptomatic.

The United States now requires just five days. Klaus Holetschek, Health Minister for the populous state of Bavaria, has already suggested that Germany should follow suit, adding that quarantine for boosted people who come in contact with a positive case should be dropped entirely.

READ ALSO: Shortening quarantine ‘must be considered’, says German Health Minister

“Omicron is different from previous variants. That’s why the quarantine rules have to be adjusted,” Tino Sorge, Bundestag health policy spokesperson for the Christian Democrats told the Welt newspaper. “We expect a new dynamic with a lot of new coronavirus infections, but many of these will also be mild. In a situation like that, we have to prevent staff shortages from paralyzing the economy and critical infrastructure.”

Omicron is already the dominant COVID—19 variant in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, and Lauterbach expects it will soon be the main variant in the rest of the country as well. On Tuesday, Germany will lift its travel ban and mandatory 14-day isolation period for those coming in from countries where Omicron is already dominant—such as the UK. 

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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.