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COVID-19

Covid infections rise in Germany as Omicron spreads

The 7-day incidence has hit more than 300 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people in Germany as the highly transmissible Omicron continues to spread.

Kiel city centre
Crowds of people walk along the pedestrianised streets in Kiel. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

On Friday, the weekly incidence of new Covid cases jumped to 303 per 100,000 people – the highest level seen since before Christmas.

Covid infections had been dropping throughout December after state governments introduced tough curbs on unvaccinated people, but with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, the figures have once again started to rise.

The 7-day incidence of Covid infections has jumped significantly from 215 per 100,000 people a week ago, and 286 on Thursday.

Daily infection numbers continue to be high, with 56,335 new infections recorded within 24 hours. Friday was the third day in a row that more than 50,000 new infections were recorded daily. 

Health authorities also reported 264 Covid-related deaths within a day on Friday, with the incidence of Covid hospitalisations per 100,000 people rising from 3.20 to 3.26.  

Even though the numbers have been increasing day by day, the RKI said that the number of new infections is underestimated due to less testing and underreporting of numbers during the holidays.

Omicron nearly dominant

After being discovered in South Africa in late November, the super-infectious Omicron variant has almost replaced Delta as the dominant variant in Germany. 

In its last weekly report, the RKI said Omicron had accounted for around 45 percent of all positive Covid cases in the previous week, while the share of Delta was continually decreasing. 

As of Friday, laboratories had reported around 62,974 confirmed or suspected cases of Omicron in Germany – compared to around half this number (32,198) when the RKI produced its report on Thursday. 

“In the coming weeks, a strong increase in infections with the variant of concern Omicron, which is also more easily transmissible in vaccinated and recovered persons, is expected,” the RKI warned in their report.

However, there are strong regional differences in the prevalence of the variant, with the majority of cases being recorded in the northern states of Germany.

While the share of Omicron is 85.5 percent in Bremen, it has only been detected in 3.2 percent of cases in Saxony-Anhalt. Schleswig-Holstein was the first German state to see Omicron take over from Delta as the dominant variant. 

READ ALSO: What effect is the Omicron wave having on German hospitals?

Covid risk ‘very high’ 

Due to the rapid spread of Omicron in Germany, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) currently classifies the risk to public health as “very high”. 

However, certain groups are deemed more at risk than others, the public health authority said. 

“The risk of infection is assessed as very high for the group of unvaccinated people, high for the groups of recovered people and vaccinated persons with basic immunisation (two vaccinations) and moderate for the group of vaccinated persons with booster vaccination,” the RKI wrote in its report. 

Though measures such as vaccinated-only entry for public venues had driven infections down before Christmas, intensive care wards are still overburdened with Covid patients, the RKI explained.

As of January 5th, 3,561 people with a Covid diagnosis were being treated in an intensive care unit, with just under 3,000 of these receiving respiratory support. 

Federal and state leaders are meeting on Friday to discuss potential measures to tackle a potential Omicron wave, including shortening quarantine to prevent staff shortages in key industries and introducing compulsory ‘2G plus’ (entry for vaccinated people with a negative test) in restaurants and bars.

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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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