‘Every day counts’: German health experts call for action from politicians to break Covid third wave

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has urged the federal and state governments to break the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic as quickly as possible, stating that waiting to enforce an 'emergency brake' will cost lives.

'Every day counts': German health experts call for action from politicians to break Covid third wave
Wieler and Spahn speaking on Thursday in Berlin. Photo: DPA

It was “naive” to believe that the virus could be controlled through increased testing, as is now required in most places to enter non-essential shops, get a hair cut, or in some cities enter the workplace, the experts said. 

“It won’t work,” RKI director Lothar Wieler said on Thursday. “We have to get the numbers down. That requires regulations, effective strategies and their immediate implementation.”

German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) appealed to the states not to wait for the “federal emergency brake” – which provides unified restrictions across Germany for areas with high case counts – to be ready next week at the earliest. 

“Every day counts,” he said.

READ ALSO: When could Germany’s nationwide ’emergency brake’ measures come into effect?

Health authorities in Germany on Thursday reported 29,426 new Covid-19 infections and 294 new deaths within 24 hours.

The figures have been increasing daily, and Germany could see more new cases this week than anytime since the start of the pandemic.

According to the RKI, the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week was 160.1 nationwide on Thursday morning, up from 90.4 four weeks ago. 

          This graph shows the number of new Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic. Photo: DPA

Dramatic situation in hospitals

Wieler made a call for action to relieve mounting pressure on hospitals.

“The situation in the hospitals is coming to a head dramatically in some cases and will also hit us even harder than in the second wave,” he said, advising all hospitals to limit regular operations. 

There are already no more free beds in intensive care units in some cities and metropolitan areas, he said, and more young people are requiring intensive care. Sick people in stable health should be transferred to less affected regions in the near future.

READ ALSO: ‘More young people will become ill’: Germany facing tough battle against coronavirus variants

For Spahn, the main goal remains to avoid overburdening the healthcare system. “What we may miss now will pay back in two or three weeks. Just like what wasn’t decided two, three weeks ago is avenging itself now.” 

Are vaccinations helping?

Spahn said that despite setbacks with vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, everyone willing to be vaccinated will still be able to get their jabs by the end of the summer. 

While Johnson & Johnson has been approved in the EU, it’s faced delivery delays to Germany, and AstraZeneca has been met with repeated controversy over a possible link to rare cases of blood clots.

But at the moment, vaccination is not yet an emergency brake, he added. Currently, about 17 percent of Germans have received their first shots. Only about six percent of Germans are fully immunised. 

Wieler compared the current pandemic situation to dangerous driving: “Imagine you are driving along narrow roads in the Dolomites. 

“It’s winding and there’s a steep slope on one side. Everyone knows I can only drive into this curve at 30. If I drive in here at a speed of 100, it’s life-threatening. And to be honest, (slamming on the brakes) won’t help.”

Member comments

  1. As long as the majority of the German population remains unvaccinated, the virus has ample opportunity to mutate, become more resistant and spread more rapidly. We MUST establish herd immunity as quickly as possible.

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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.