What effect is the Omicron wave having on German hospitals?

Omicron is fast becoming Germany’s dominant COVID-19 variant. But despite historically high case counts over the last month, hospitalisations are lower than in January 2021.

The Omicron variant is already dominant in parts of Germany
The Omicron variant is already dominant in parts of Germany (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

COVID-19 hospitalisations in Germany are continuing on a downward trend, even as the country deals with pronounced spikes in new infections and an increasingly prevalent Omicron variant.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which advises the government, recorded 58,912 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. The institute cautions that the recent holiday season could be contributing to some late reporting, which could be skewing the daily case count.

However, German case numbers have been at regular record highs since the beginning of December. The number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant has also continued a steady climb – with over 35,000 confirmed Omicron cases, more than triple the number registered just a week ago.

The actual number could be even higher, as only a small portion of tests performed in Germany are sequenced to identify variants.

Omicron is already the dominant variant in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. It’s also now estimated to account for about 44 percent of all cases in Berlin.

READ ALSO: German politicians float shorter quarantine times for Omicron wave

Yet despite having an 88 percent higher average case count now than a year ago, hospitalisations in Germany are about 36 percent lower now than they were at the same time in 2021.

At the moment, just over 70 percent of people in Germany are fully vaccinated, while around 40 percent have already had a booster shot.

The effect of vaccination on hospitalisation numbers is most evident in people who are 60 years of age and over. In this age group, the unvaccinated are at a much higher risk of hospitalisation than those who have been fully vaccinated or boosted.

Death rates in Germany from COVID-19 are also down markedly from their record highs a year ago. They’re continuing their current downward trend – even as case counts rise and Omicron becomes increasingly dominant.

This comes as the World Health Organization says it’s seeing more and more evidence suggesting that Omicron causes milder symptoms than earlier COVID-19 variants.

READ ALSO: Top virologist signals support for shortening quarantine in Germany

Amongst other measures, German federal and state leaders are meeting on Friday to discuss whether quarantine times should be reduced in light of recent Omicron evidence.

Germany has already removed its travel ban and mandatory isolation period for travellers from countries where Omicron is already dominant, such as the UK.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany removing UK from virus-variant list affects you 

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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.