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COVID-19

How lockdowns and restrictions across different European countries may have saved lives

Strict containment measures and social distancing measures might have already saved up to 59,000 lives across 11 European countries battling the spread of the new coronavirus, scientists say. Here's a closer look.

How lockdowns and restrictions across different European countries may have saved lives
A woman waves from the window of her flat in the district of Trastevere in Rome on March 20, 2020 . AFP

Basing their modelling on the numbers of recorded deaths from COVID-19, researchers from Imperial College London said most countries it looked at had likely dramatically reduced the rate at which the virus spreads.

Using the experiences of countries with the most advanced epidemics like Italy and Spain, the study compared actual fatality rates with an estimate of what would have happened with no measures such as school closures, event  cancellations and lockdowns. 

“With current interventions remaining in place to at least the end of March, we estimate that interventions across all 11 countries will have averted 59,000 deaths up to 31 March,” said the report, which was released Monday.  

“Many more deaths will be averted through ensuring that interventions remain in place until transmission drops to low levels.”

Billions of people around the world have been ordered to stay home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 38,000 people since it emerged in China late last year. 

The Imperial College study said despite the grave strain on the medical system in Italy, lockdown measures had “averted a health care catastrophe”, estimating that the containment efforts had saved 38,000 lives. 

In Spain researchers estimate 16,000 lives had been saved, while in France the number was 2,500, in Belgium 560, Germany 550, the United Kingdom 370, Switzerland 340, Austria 140, Denmark 69 and Norway 10.

For Sweden, which has been somewhat of an outlier in Europe so far for avoiding any strict lockdown on the public, the number given was 82.

Epidemiologists from Imperial College are part of the group advising the British government on its outbreak response.  

The study, which used assumptions about the proportion of infected people not recorded in official figures, estimated that some 5.9 million people could have been infected in Italy up to March 28 — almost 10 percent of the population. 

In Spain, researchers noted a recent “large increase” in deaths and estimated that some seven million people — or 15 percent  of the population — have been infected.  

It said it was too early to say whether countries with lower death tolls would see a comparable impact of their intervention measures as those battling a more severe epidemic. 

“We cannot say for certain that the current measures have controlled the epidemic in Europe; however, if current trends continue, there is reason for optimism,” it added.

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HEALTH

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. 

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