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North Rhine-Westphalia halts coronavirus aid payments over fake websites

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Thursday halted emergency payments for freelancers and small businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis after discovering fraudsters were using "fake websites" to trick applicants.

North Rhine-Westphalia halts coronavirus aid payments over fake websites
A shop in Berlin displaying a closed sign. Many businesses are affected by the corona crisis. Photo: DPA

The regional economy ministry of Germany's most populous state, in the west of the country, said it had filed a fraud complaint with police following “indications of fake websites that appear prominently in search results”.

The websites mimic the official state site where small business owners can apply for cash handouts between €9,000 and €15,000 after entering personal details including their name, address and tax and bank account numbers.

The cash is aimed at helping people through the current coronavirus pandemic as public life has almost slammed to a halt.

According to early investigations by the police's cyber crime unit, fraudsters have been using the spoof application forms to get hold of data “presumably for criminal purposes”, the ministry said in a statement.

It said it had agreed with police to “stop the payouts for freelancers and small businesses for the time being” while the investigation continues.

But it stressed that small business owners in North Rhine-Westphalia could still apply for aid, taking care to use only the official website: soforthilfe-corona.nrw.de

“We ask those applicants who are currently waiting for their money transfer for understanding and patience,” the ministry added.

The cash handout, which is available nationwide, is part of a massive rescue package by the German government aimed at shielding companies and workers from the fallout of the pandemic.

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Like other countries, Germany has closed schools and businesses and confined millions of citizens to their homes in a bid to slow the outbreak.

The measures are battering Europe's top economy, which experts believe will shrink by around five percent this year.

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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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