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COVID-19

German air force transfers patients as clinics fill up

Germany on Friday used a military plane to transfer intensive care patients to less afflicted regions, an unprecedented move as a vicious fourth wave of the pandemic fills hospital wards.

Medics wearing PPE are seen transporting a patient infected with Covid-19 to an ambulance from an armed forces medical transport plane
Medics wearing PPE transport a patient infected with Covid-19 to an ambulance from an armed forces medical transport plane for transfer to less busy intensive care units in the country amid a ferocious fourth wave of the virus. Ina Fassbender / AFP

A specially equipped Airbus 310 medical transport plane took off from Memmingen in the hard-hit state of Bavaria headed for Muenster/Osnabrueck airport in the west of the country, a German air force spokesman said.

Using an emergency plan devised earlier in the pandemic, patients in overstretched intensive care units are being moved to clinics that still have capacity for critically ill people.

A ferocious fourth wave of Covid-19 has in particular ravaged the south and south-east of the EU’s most populous country.

“The situation is dramatically serious — more serious than at any other point in this pandemic,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters on Friday, as he called on regional and local authorities under Germany’s federalist system to tighten shutdown measures.

The transport plane has six intensive care beds, which a defence ministry spokesman said would all be filled on the first flight, with further planes on standby.

Germany this week passed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak, as daily infections continue to shatter records.

The Robert Koch Institute infectious disease centre on Friday reported 76,414 cases in 24 hours while the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people reached 438.2 — both setting new highs.

The below chart from Our World in Data shows the difference between the current situation and previous waves.

As the situation worsens, Spahn and other officials are calling for the next crisis meeting between federal and state leaders set for December 9th to be moved forward to approve new measures.

Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel, who is expected to hand over the reins to a new government early next month, warned on Thursday that “every day counts” as she urged “more contact restrictions” to fight the virus.

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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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