Germany has been passing measures to cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the country.
This law, which has the snappy title of “Second law to protect the population in the event of an epidemic situation of national importance” (“Zweites Gesetz zum Schutz der Bevölkerung bei einer epidemischen Lage von nationaler Tragweite”) was approved by the Bundestag on Thursday May 13th.
It will go through the Bundesrat likely this week, before it comes into force soon after.
German media has dubbed it the the “New Infection Protection Act”, “Pandemic Law” and “Epidemic Protection Act”, reported the Tagesschau. It includes amendments to various existing laws and regulations to help improve Germany's response to the pandemic.
Here’s an overview:
More support for people hit by the crisis
Anyone who has to go into short-time work (Kurzarbeit) or loses their job because of the pandemic will receive more support in future.
The Bundestag approved the Social Package II (das Sozialpaket II) which means Kurzarbeit allowance will be increased from the current 60 percent of a person's last wage to 70 percent as of the fourth month. From the seventh month, the rate will rise to 80 percent.
For parents, the benefit increases from 67 to 77 or 87 percent. This rule applies until the end of the year. Those on Kurzarbeit are also allowed to earn additional money from May 1st until the end of the year.
People whose unemployment benefits are due to run out in the period from May 1st 2020 to December 31st 2020, are now able to receive a one-off three-month extension of the benefit.
More tests – even on people with no symptoms
Germany is to expand and increase the amount of testing carried out for coronavirus, particularly in nursing homes and hospitals.
And testing will be used as a preventative measure in future. That means that even people without symptoms will be tested if they think they have the virus or have come into contact with someone who has it.
It is hoped that this will enable authorities to stop chains of infection and stall the virus from spreading.
Statutory health insurance organisations will also have to pay for coronavirus tests – even if the patient getting the test has no symptoms.
Bonus for carers
Employees who work in nursing care for the elderly are to receive a bonus of up to €1,000 this year for their efforts in the coronavirus crisis.
States or employers can increase the bonus to up to €1,500, which would remain tax-free. Several countries have already announced it.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said the total cost of payouts could amount to around €1 billion.
The reason for the payment is that during the pandemic, staff in nursing homes will be exposed to particular physical and psychological stress and an increased risk of contracting Covid-19 themselves, according to the law.
Critics, however, say there should be a permanent increase in the salaries of nursing and care staff.
The Green Party is also calling for the planned bonuses to be “extended to other professional groups in health care facilities that carry a higher risk”.
An old person's home in Heinsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA
In order to get a better picture of the situation, laboratories and doctors will in future have to report to the health authorities not only suspected cases of infection, confirmed cases and deaths – but also negative test results and recovered cases.
The reporting system will also include information on where someone is likely to have contracted the disease. The data will be transmitted anonymously to the Robert Koch Institute. In this way the government wants to gain a better overview of the development of the pandemic.
Money for health sector
The government wants to provide a €50 million cash injection to Germany's 375 health care authorities so they can upgrade technology and equipment.
There's been repeated criticism recently that the authorities still send some of their coronavirus figures by fax – and that there is a need for a digital upgrade. In addition, a permanent contact point for the public health service will be established at the Robert Koch Institute.
More supplies for flu vaccination
The government wants to ensure that more people are vaccinated against flu so that the healthcare system is not burdened by another wave of influenza in the next winter season.
So far, health insurance companies are only covering the costs of a limited amount of flu vaccine stocks. In future, doctors will be able to order more flu vaccines without having to fear recourse claims from the health insurance companies.
Relief for privately insured people
The government wants to ensure that people in Germany with private health insurance, who become temporarily in need of assistance in the coronavirus crisis and switch to the basic tariff, can later return to their original tariff – without getting a health check that's usually required as a prerequisite.
Immunity passport off the table for the time being
In the bill approved by the cabinet at the end of April, there were still plans to issue a so-called 'immunity passport' to all those who previously had coronavirus and have recovered. However, the prerequisite for this is that immunity after infection has been scientifically proven – which is not yet the case.
Those against the idea say that a document could create a false sense of security. Another concern was that people could deliberately try to get infected in order to gain immunity, which could be dangerous for them and others. For this reason, the concept was removed from the current draft law.
However, Health Minister Spahn has submitted the idea of such a proof of immunity to the German Ethics Council for consultation.