Living in Germany in times of the coronavirus can be a little frightening. Anyone who has spent time here in the past few weeks, has likely familiarized themselves with terms like “Hamsterkäufe,” German for panic buying, or “strategic toilet paper reserves,” a response some are suggesting for the recent runs on toilet paper. And that’s not to mention hand sanitizer, which seems to fly off the shelves just as soon as it gets stocked.
Now it’s the virus itself causing the anxiety. Coronavirus and COVID-19 already arrived in Germany weeks ago, and most experts believe the disease will be here for some time to come.
This page will serve in the coming days as a FAQ with essential information and links in English to other practical information for helping you deal with the coronavirus crisis. We will mostly provide information about specific German aspects, as there are plenty of English-language websites out there already, including that of the World Health Organization, with plentiful information on general hygiene and symptoms to look out for if you’re worried you may have been exposed. We will update the FAQ to include additional information we feel is necessary in response to developments.
What is the current threat assessment in Germany?
The current assessment by Germany’s center for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, is that coronavirus and COVID-19 present a modest threat in Germany. That threat varies from region to region, and there are “particularly affected areas” where it is higher. The agency officially lists the district of Heinsberg in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia — the site of one of the earlier, but also largest so far — outbreaks in Germany as one of those areas.
The institute’s current strategy is to identify cases as early as possible and to “delay the spread of the virus for as long as possible.” The institute says that work needs to be “complemented by efforts by society as a whole, such as reducing social contacts in order to prevent infections in the private, professional and public spheres and by reducing travel.”
How can I find out how many people have been infected in Germany?
What should you do if you fear you have been infected with the novel coronavirus or have returned from a region with a high rate of infections?
Germany’s Federal Center for Health Education recommends that persons who have had any contact (regardless of whether they have traveled) with a person who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 should immediately contact their local health authority, even if they show no signs of illness. A list of the responsible public health departments can be found on a database at the Robert Koch Institute. Just enter the postal code of the place where you live or are staying and the database will list the appropriate contact.
The institute writes: For travelers from a region in which cases of COVID-19 (the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus) occur, but is not considered an international risk area (currently certain provinces and regions in China, Iran, Italy and South Korea ) or a particularly affected area in Germany, the following applies: If you develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of your return journey, you should first contact a doctor by phone. During that conversation, you should also discuss your travel itinerary and further procedures before visiting the doctor’s office. You should also avoid unnecessary contact and stay home if possible, observing the rules for coughing and sneezing and good hand hygiene.
What are the official recommendations for stocking my pantry in Germany?
Aisles with canned foods or pasta may be sparse from time to time in Germany right now, but officials say the country is not facing any true shortage of food. They also point out that people aren’t starving in Wuhan and that supermarkets and pharmacies in Italy are still open.
Regardless of the coronavirus, the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture recommends “a sufficient (emergency) supply of food for about 10 days should be available in every household.” You can find the government’s recommendations for stockpiling as well as a checklist on pages 34 and 35 of this English-language disaster-preparedness pamphlet (PDF file).
The head of the Robert Koch Institute also recommends that the elderly, in particular, should keep provisions in their pantries. “We recommend that people who belong to the risk groups, including the elderly, only buy their groceries once a week,” says RKI President Lothar Wieler. “That way they avoid possible contact with sick people.”
Is there a risk I could become subject to a quarantine?
In cases where a person tests positive for the coronavirus, they are placed under quarantine or in medical isolation by the local health office. Local health departments can also order people into self-quarantine for 14 days if they are believed to have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. Home quarantine means a person may not leave their home. These decisions by the health departments are legally binding and anyone violating the rule can be prosecuted and face a fine or up to two years in jail. Home-based quarantine means staying at home: You’re not allowed to go to work, shopping or even to go for a walk. In these cases, you should arrange for friends, family or delivery services to handle your shopping and deliver it to your door.
Given the complexity of quarantines, we will also be posting additional articles on the subject, which we will link to from here.