German doctors call for ’empty’ Covid vaccine centres to close

The German GP Association says Covid-19 vaccination centres should be closed over summer because they're not being used.

A person receives a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Braunschweig.
A person receives a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Braunschweig. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

“The vaccination centres are empty all over Germany,” association president Ulrich Weigeldt told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on Thursday. 

“Why they should continue to operate for the entire summer is completely incomprehensible.”

Weigeldt said that rather than keeping centres open, Covid jabs could still be given within GP surgeries and through mobile vaccination teams who visit communities.

Nearly 76 percent of the German population has had two jabs, and 59.8 percent have received their booster shot. About 5.2 million people in Germany have received a second booster jab so far – 6.3 percent of the population. Vulnerable groups such as the elderly have been urged to get a second booster shot. 

It comes as Covid infections in Germany spiral upwards, leading Health Minister Karl Lauterbach to declare a new wave. 

READ ALSO: Summer Covid wave has arrived in Germany, warns Health Minister

On Thursday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) again reported rising numbers: there were 89,142 new infections within the latest 24 hour period, and 73 deaths. The nationwide 7-day incidence rose to 480.0 infections per 100,000 people. A week ago the incidence was 276.9.

However, experts believe there are far more infections because many go unreported. 

The new wave is being fuelled by the spread of subtypes of the Omicron variant, particularly BA.5, which is more transmissible but does not generally cause severe illness. 

Immunologist Carsten Watzl said he expected a weaker Covid wave than in winter.

“We currently have two developments that are working against each other. On the one hand, a seasonal effect that suppresses the numbers, and on the other hand, with Omicron, unlike in past summers, a variant that is significantly more contagious,” Watzl told Funke-Zeitung.

A summer wave was to be expected, he said. “But I don’t think BA.5 will completely cancel out the seasonal effect,” he said. “We will probably have to deal with incidences in the range of 500, 600, 700. I don’t think we will reach (a 7-day incidence of) 2,000, as we did last winter.”

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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.