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NATURE

EXPLAINED: How to deal with wasps in Germany

The hot weather in Germany is good news for wasps, but not necessarily for people. Here’s what you need to know if you encounter the stinging critters this summer.

Wasps fly towards their nest in a residential building, in Frankfurt am Main.
Wasps fly towards their nest in a residential building, in Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Thanks to the persistently warm and dry weather across Europe this summer, wasp populations are on the rise, with pest controllers in France even dubbing 2022 ‘the year of the wasp’.

The peak of wasp season is still to come, however, as wasps tend to reach their maximum population between September and October. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with the stripy insects in Germany.

Is it illegal to kill wasps in Germany?

In short: yes. There are hundreds of wasp species in Germany, some of which are particularly endangered and are on the so-called “red list” of threatened animal and plant species.

Since they are a protected species, killing the insects is generally prohibited under the Federal Nature Conservation Act, and anyone who gets caught deliberately killing a wasp could face a hefty fine.

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, a wasp-killer can face a fine of up to €50,000 while in Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the maximum fine is up to €20,000. In the other federal states, catching, injuring or killing wasps can cost up to €5,000.

In the case of a specially protected wasp species such as the gyroscopic or button horn wasp, fines range from €10,000 to €65,000, depending on the state.

Are wasps dangerous?

Though they may be somewhat pesky, biologists and nature activists generally agree that wasps aren’t dangerous, at least to those who are not allergic to their stings. They are typically not aggressive unless threatened and will tend to flee rather than fight.

It would also take at least 50 to 100 stings to actually overdose on wasp venom, but severe allergies and accidents (while running away from a swarm, for example) could be more dangerous.

How do I keep wasps at bay?

There are a few tried and tested tricks you can use to ward off wasps.

Firstly, as wasps are primarily attracted to meat and sweets, you should keep these foods well covered as much as possible.

Wasps don’t like getting wet, so having a water spray bottle on the picnic table can come in very handy for keeping the critters at bay. Don’t go overboard with the spray, though, and don’t be alarmed if the wasp doesn’t move for a while after you’ve given it a dousing. As soon as its wings are dry, the insect will fly off.

READ ALSO: How to deal with fruit flies (and other critters) plaguing your German flat

Distraction tactics also work well: a bowl of overripe fruit – such as grapes – placed at a safe distance can be a good way to keep wasps away from you. 

One homemade deterrent you can try is a lemon cut in half, sprinkled with a few cloves, which is a particularly unpleasant scent for the insects.

How should I react to wasps?

If the uninvited guests do join your barbecue or picnic, you shouldn’t panic. “Take it easy” is the best motto when dealing with the black-and-yellow insects.

You should avoid abrupt movements and not lash out or blow in the direction of the animal as exhaled carbon dioxide makes the normally calm animals aggressive, and do not try to hit them or make any sudden movements.

What if I find a nest?

First of all, keep your distance – ideally at least five metres. Nests can host thousands of wasps and they will become aggressive if they feel threatened.

According to the Species Protection Information of the Berlin Senate Department wasps are subject to general protection and may “only be controlled if there is a reasonable reason to do so.” In other words, finding a wasp nest in your house doesn’t necessarily mean you can call pest control to come and get rid of it. 

The German Nature Conservation Association (NABU) advises those who come across a nest to seek advice, either by getting in contact with them directly or with your local environmental agencies or nature conservation authorities.

What should I do if I get stung?

If you are unlucky enough to get stung by a wasp, the first thing to do is to carefully clean the puncture site. NABU also recommends cooling the sting site and treating it with insect creams which you can get from your local pharmacy.

READ ALSO: Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

Alternatively, you can use the old homemade remedy of cutting an onion in half, making an incision so that the juice can escape more easily, and rubbing it into the puncture site. This not only has a cooling effect but can also act as a disinfectant and anti-inflammatory.

For allergy sufferers, however, a wasp sting can be very dangerous. NABU recommends that allergy sufferers always carry emergency medication with them and if in any doubt, go straight to the emergency department of the local hospital.

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For members

HEALTH

What to know about Germany’s plans to raise health insurance fees

Germany is struggling to fill huge gaps in its health funds following the pandemic and is planning to raise health insurance fees next year. Here's who it could affect and how much more people could have to pay.

What to know about Germany's plans to raise health insurance fees

What’s going on?

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, Germany is struggling to fill a large gap in its healthcare reserves.

According to Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), the statutory health insurance funds are facing a deficit of €17 billion next year, placing Germany’s healthcare finances under severe strain.

Lauterbach says this is largely due to the generous spending policies of the previous government both before and during the Covid crisis. As well as pouring billions of euros into free tests, the healthcare system was overwhelmed by patients during the most severe waves of the pandemic. 

To tackle this shortfall, the Health Ministry has drafted a set of proposals for raising additional funds. 

One of these proposals is to increase the level of health insurance contributions that people have to pay each month. The funds raised from this would account for around 10 percent of the total rescue package. 

READ ALSO: How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

How much more could people have to pay?

Lauterbach has pitched a 0.3 percent rise in monthly contributions. This would be added to the so-called additional contribution, which is currently set at a maximum of 1.3 percent, on top of the 14.6 percent general contribution that is paid as standard. 

For people in employment, contributions are divided equally between the employer and the employee. That means the extra 0.3 percent would translate to 0.15 percent extra per month in reality. 

In concrete terms, that’s an extra €1.50 for someone with a gross income of €1,000 per month, or €4.50 extra for someone with a gross income of €3,000 per month. 

Self-employed people – who generally have to bear the full brunt of the health insurance costs themselves – will fare a little worse under the plans. They’ll be expected to shell out €3 extra per month for every €1,000 of gross profit. 

Would everyone have to pay this much? 

No. Firstly, the changes would only affect those who are registered with one of the statutory health insurance companies such as TK or AOK. People who are privately insured will continue to pay the contribution set by their insurer.  

Secondly, unlike the general contribution of 14.6 percent, statutory insurance funds have the option to decide how much of the additional contribution they want to charge. 

That means that, while 1.6 percent could become the new maximum, there’s no guarantee that companies will choose to charge this. Depending on their financial situation, they may decide to keep the additional fees lower to remain competitive, or alternatively hike the fees to the maximum in order to shore up their reserves or offer better services. 

In other words, people will still pay a minimum contribution of 14.6 percent of their income but could pay a maximum of 16.2 percent (assuming that their health insurance company chooses to charge the full additional contribution). Most will pay something in the middle. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I change my German health insurance provider?

Health insurance cards from AOK.

Health insurance cards from AOK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

What other plans are on the table?

As we mentioned, raising health insurance contributions is likely to cover just a small fraction of the deficit. To cover the rest, Lauterbach is proposing a range of other measures, including:

More state funding

In 2023, the federal government will step in with increased funding for the health insurance funds. Instead of the usual spending of €14.5 billion per year, the traffic-light coalition will shell out €16.5 billion on topping up the healthcare funds next year and will also provide a further €1 billion in the form of an interest-free loan.

Money from healthcare reserves

Statutory health insurance companies will have to dig into their savings to the tune of €4 billion to help cover the deficit. At the same time, €2.4 billion will be taken out of a pool of money known as the ‘Health Fund’ (Gesundheitsfond), which is built up through a combination of health insurance contributions, taxpayer funding and other forms of insurance such as pensions insurance. 

Increased discounts on medicines

Under German law, pharmaceutical companies are required to provide statutory health insurance companies with a discount of at least seven percent on certain types of medicine. This will be hiked to 12 percent for one year. 

A pharmacist scans a prescription

A pharmacist scans a prescription. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Inderlied

Furthermore, pharmacies will be required to provide the insurance funds with a discount of €2 (rather than the previous €1.77) per packet of prescription drugs. This will last for at least two years. Meanwhile, a moratorium on raising the price of medicines will be extended to 2026. 

Restrictions on bonuses for doctors

Doctors’ surgeries will no longer be given financial incentives for taking on new patients. 

Is this all set in stone?

Not yet, although it is likely to be passed in a parliamentary vote. So far, the cabinet has already waved through the changes, and on Friday they were debated for the first time in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: Why large families are set to pay less for German care insurance

What are people saying?

In a seething speech in the Bundestag on Friday, Bavaria’s state health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) criticised Lauterbach’s plans to raise health insurance contributions, arguing that it would “send the wrong signal” to patients. 

He also laid into the proposals to cut doctors’ bonuses for taking on new patients, arguing that this would lead to a cut in services.

However, the FDP health expert Andrew Ullmann said Lauterbach’s plans could help to avoid a hike in contributions that could cost people hundreds of euros per months. “That would not be responsible in times of inflation and energy crisis,” he said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD)

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a debate in the Bundestag on the measures to bail out the health insurance funds. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

In his speech in the Bundestag, Lauterbach said the rise in health insurance contributions was ultimately fair since employers would be expected to pay half. He also defended his plans to dig into the health insurance funds’ reserves. At some of the health insurance funds, board members “earn significantly more than the Federal Chancellor”, he claimed. 

Pointing to his proposals to shift some of the financial burden onto pharmaceutical companies, the SPD politician said he would “stand up to lobby pressure” and refuse to change course. 

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