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UPDATE: Germany to close borders with Austria’s Tyrol and Czech regions

Germany will ban travel from Austria's Tyrol and Czech border regions from Sunday due to coronavirus mutation concerns.

UPDATE: Germany to close borders with Austria's Tyrol and Czech regions
AFP

The border will be closed over a troubling surge in infections of more contagious coronavirus variants, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Thursday.

“The states of Bavaria and Saxony today asked the government to class Tyrol and the border regions of the Czech Republic as virus mutation areas, and to implement border controls,” Seehofer told the Süddeutsche newspaper.

“That has been agreed with the (German) chancellor and the vice-chancellor,” he said, adding that the new curbs will begin on Sunday.

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder had warned late Wednesday that if the Czech Republic was unable to take appropriate measures to curb contagion, then a “border closure must also be an issue”.

Germany in late January banned most travellers from countries classed as so-called mutation areas or places hardest hit by new, more contagious coronavirus variants.

Only a handful of exceptions are allowed to enter Germany from these countries, including returning Germans or residents and essential workers.

With neighbouring EU countries continuing to report high infection numbers in part fuelled by variants, German leaders fear that keeping the borders open could compromise the country's efforts to curb contagion.

Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann said in a regional parliament session that if virus variants were to keep propagating in neighbouring countries, then “of course that can in the extreme case also lead to border closures”.

Austria has already ordered restrictions to stop people leaving the mountainous Tyrol region, which Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says has been hit by the biggest outbreak in Europe of the South African variant.

READ ALSO: 'Austria is acting irresponsibly': Germany considers border closures

Fearing superspreader hotspot

Anyone leaving the region must now show a negative coronavirus test, with fines of up to €1,450 ($1,750) for anyone who fails to comply.

But Söder, whose region borders Tyrol, previously said he feared that “a second Ischgl” was in the making – referring to the Austrian ski region which became a coronavirus superspreader hotspot early on in the pandemic.

Tyrol “is not taking the development seriously,” he said.

Meanwhile Saxony state, which lies next to the Czech Republic, already said it was imposing tougher checks from Saturday with restrictions to also affect cross-border workers.

Only workers in essential sectors – such as doctors or employees in elderly care home – would be allowed to travel in.

But they would be required to take virus tests daily and commit to travel only between their homes and workplaces.

The Czech government said Thursday it would block off three hard-hit districts, including two on the German border, stopping people living in these zones from leaving and others from entering.

Czech public health officials want the curb to be in force for three weeks, although there are likely to be exceptions.

 By Hui Min NEO

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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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