Preventing coronavirus infection in Berlin – frequently asked questions

The Berlin Senate Department for Health provides constantly updated information on how to deal with coronavirus.

As of: 07.04.2020

Social contacts, families, free time, and basic supplies

Limiting contacts is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Physical contact to other people should be reduced to an absolute minimum, with the exception of the people you are already living with in the same household. You can meet with one other person outdoors, but should maintain a distance of at least 1.5 meters to that person. You can find other exceptions in the ordinance of 2 April 2020 under Part 5 (Temporary Contact Restrictions) § 14 (3). We know this is asking a lot of everyone, but this measure is essential if we are to cut back on the number of new infections.

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No, for the time being, you will unfortunately not be able to visit your friends. The idea is to avoid physical contact with others in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

If your partner lives in another apartment, you can visit that person – and if possible, just stay there. If each of you lives alone, you can visit each other as long as you don’t have any other contacts. You are also required to stay home at all times and to leave the house only in exceptional cases, which are listed in the ordinance of 2 April 2020 under Part 5 (Temporary Contact Restrictions) § 14 (3)..

That also means you cannot stop by to visit a friend even if you were to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters to that person while in the apartment. However, you can take a walk together outdoors as long as it is just the two of you and you maintain a distance of 1.5 meters.

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A curfew means that for a particular period of time, no one may leave the house – not even to take a walk. Restrictions on going out, on the other hand, allow for exceptions. For the moment, Berlin is opposed to instituting a curfew and is appealing to everyone to comply with the restrictions so that the spread of the coronavirus can be slowed down.

You can find answers to many questions about the details of the restrictions in the Senate Department for Health’s FAQs on the restrictions on going out (only in German).

Berlin’s authorities responsible for maintaining public order are entitled to impose fines in individual cases. Details can be found in the schedule of fines.

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Yes, you need to maintain a distance of at least one to two meters to other people when you’re outside, too – whether you’re sitting on a park bench or standing in front of a “späti.” You should also continue to observe the general rules on hygiene when you’re outside.

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In order to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection, patients in hospitals cannot receive visitors. Exceptions will be made for patients under the age of 16 and those who are critically ill; these may receive one visitor a day for one hour.

Nursing home residents are also permitted only one visit a day for one hour.

Patients who are receiving palliative care or who are critically or terminally ill may receive visitors.

Patients may receive visits from pastors.

Please see the ordinance of 22 March 2020 under Part 2 § 6 for the exceptions to the rules on visits.

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Expectant mothers can have one other person with them during the delivery. After the baby is born, they and their newborn can receive one visit a day for one hour.

Please see the ordinance of 2 April 2020 under Part 2 (Provisions for Hospitals and Nursing Homes, etc.) § 6 for the exceptions to the rules on visits.

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Sports activities in all public and private sporting facilities, in swimming pools, in gyms, etc. are prohibited. If you comply with preventive measures you can still do individual sports either outside or at home. If you do decide to get some exercise outdoors, you can do that alone, with the people you live with, or with one other person. Here, too, please comply with the rules on maintaining distance.

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Yes. Public and private events, gatherings, and meetings are prohibited. Exceptions apply to meetings of political and legal institutions, authorities, and security services. Exceptions also apply to gatherings of family members and in the private sphere of up to ten people if such gatherings are necessary. This would include, for instance, gathering at the bedside of someone who is dying or a funeral service. At all of these events and gatherings, a list must be kept of the people who were present and must include each person’s first and last name, complete address, and telephone number. The list must be kept for four weeks after the event and must be given to the relevant authority in its entirety upon request.

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Clubs, trade fairs, exhibitions, special markets, gambling machine arcades, casinos, betting offices, and similar businesses are closed. The same applies to places of entertainment, movie theaters, theaters, concert halls, museums, and similar institutions, as well as to houses of prostitution. In addition, hair salons, cosmetic studios, massage practices, and tattoo studios have to close and may not offer their services elsewhere. Medically necessary treatments like physical therapy are still allowed.

Restaurants, bars, and hookah bars are closed. Restaurants may still offer take-out and delivery services, but hygiene rules must be observed and adequate distance between people waiting in line must be ensured.

Hotels and other providers of overnight accommodation cannot provide accommodation for tourists.

The Senate Department for Economics has important financial information for companies.

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Sales outlets are closed, with the exception of food and beverage stores – including late sale outlets (“Spätis”), take-out and delivery services, and farmers’ markets – pharmacies, drugstores, medical supply stores, gas stations, banks, savings banks, post offices, laundromats, newspaper kiosks, and bookstores. Building supply stores, pet supply stores, bicycle shops, funeral homes, trade supply stores, and wholesalers are also open.

These sales outlets may open on Sundays and holidays from 12 noon to 6:00 p.m. to sell necessary goods for daily use. This will be in effect until 19 April 2020. The ban on truck transport on Sundays and holidays has been lifted for the time being until 1 June 2020 to facilitate the continuous delivery of goods.

More details are available from the Senate Department for Integration, Labour and Social Services.

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The warehouses are full of food. No one needs to be stockpiling food or other products. Retail stores are ordinarily not allowed to have their employees work on Sundays; this ban has been lifted, as has the ban on Sunday truck transport. This means that supermarkets and discount stores can receive deliveries on the weekend and the stores can open on Monday with their shelves fully stocked.

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Berlin’s courts are also limiting their work to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. You can find out what actions the individual courts have taken by visiting their websites. Current information on the penal system, law enforcement authorities, the Joint Legal Examination Board, and the courts is available on the special page of the Senate Department for Justice, Consumer Protection and Anti-Discrimination.

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Housing and rent

The federal government has initiated comprehensive measures intended to protect people in Germany from risks associated with the current crisis. These include a significant expansion of the protection against eviction (for both residential and commercial properties) when tenants fall behind in their rent. If tenants are currently unable to pay their rent because of a decline in income resulting from the coronavirus crisis, they can be protected against losing their apartment. Detailed information is available on the pages of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection.

The measures were adopted by the Bundestag on 25 March 2020 and are expected to go into effect soon. This initiative has the full support of the Senate.

Please note that access to public assistance benefits is to be eased during the coronavirus crisis. You can find current information on the pages of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

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The Senate will ensure that for the time being, municipal housing associations and berlinovo will come up with individual, fair solutions for tenants who fall behind in their rent, will not send eviction notices for failure to pay rent, and will not forcibly evict people from apartments in which they are still living. The same applies to commercial rentals. The Senate is also appealing to all landlords of privately owned properties in Berlin to do the same. In addition, the Senate will do whatever it can to have all court eviction orders for housing suspended for the time being, and to get the utility companies to refrain from shutting off power or gas to its customers during the coronavirus crisis.

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The Berlin Senate will ensure that you have the opportunity to protect yourself from infection and that you can take shelter. We currently have around 1,000 emergency beds in the city, and there are still beds available. The “Kältehilfe,” a service that provides temporary accommodation to the homeless in the winter, will be gradually reducing this number as it gets warmer. To compensate for these, we will be creating room for 350 people (initially) in accommodations that are open 24 hours a day and staffed by experienced social workers who can provide medical and psychological care. Substance abuse counseling will also be available.

Two new accommodations will be open:

  • The youth hostel at Kluckstraße 3, 10785 Berlin (Tiergarten), with 200 beds.
  • The former “Kältehilfe” facility at Storkower Straße 133a, 10407 Berlin (Prenzlauer Berg), with 150 beds.

We do not know what the response to these facilities will be, but if it turns out that there is high demand for the available beds, we will expand capacity. Other aid organizations are currently working on creating new and urgently needed services for the homeless. Neighborhood groups are also providing quick assistance in their own areas in the form of, for instance, “gift fences” on which they hang bags of food, clothing, and toiletries that homeless people can take.

There will be no penalty if you do not want to accept any of these offers. However, the current directives on limiting contacts also apply to you.
If you have questions, please contact one of the many social organizations in the city that help take care of homeless people in Berlin. You can find a current list of facilities that are still open and of current soup kitchens here: www.kaeltehilfe-berlin.de

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Work and businesses

The Berlin Senate has set up a protective shield for companies and jobs in Berlin. Its measures include:
  • Compensation
    If someone has been prohibited from working or sent into quarantine, compensation for loss of earnings will be paid in line with the Protection against Infection Act.
  • Tax breaks
    The Tax Offices are taking an accommodating and unbureaucratic approach to reducing the amount of estimated tax that is due. That gives companies that have been hit by the crisis immediate liquidity at no charge. In addition, businesses experiencing a liquidity squeeze can apply to have payment deferred on the taxes they already owe. In some cases, these deferred payments may be interest-free.
  • Quick guarantees
    The maximum amount for guarantees from the guarantee bank has been doubled to €2.5 million. Within three days, the guarantee bank can make a decision on its own on guarantees of up to €250,000. Loans for operating funds can also be guaranteed for up to 80%.
    With its program for larger guarantees (Großbürgschaftsprogramm), which start at €50 million, the federal government can secure up to 80% of loans for operating funds and investment.
  • Liquidity assistance

Berlin’s liquidity fund gives it an established instrument used to help small and medium-sized businesses that need short-term liquidity assistance because of loss of receivables and a temporary drop in sales. The Senate is also helping solo freelancers and microentrepreneurs with a grant program.

In addition, the federal government has activated a wide range of measures aimed at providing relief to businesses.

You can find more information on this subject on the pages of the Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises.

The Senate Department for Culture and Europe has put together information for artists, culture professionals, and the creative industries.

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The Berlin Senate is doing everything it can to help Berlin’s business community. We have opened up the Berlin liquidity assistance program to all small and medium-sized businesses with up to 250 employees, the professions, and clubs and restaurants, effective immediately. The Investitionsbank Berlin’s authorization to borrow funds to be used for liquidity assistance has been raised by €100 million. This can be increased to a maximum of €200 million in a second tranche.

Applications can be submitted now. You can find the forms and other information at:
https://www.ibb.de/de/wirtschaftsfoerderung/themen/coronavirus/corona-liquiditaets-engpaesse.html

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The Berlin Senate is initiating a measure designed to help microenterprises that have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus crisis and have no more than five employees. This aid will also help freelancers and the solo self-employed especially in the health care, equal opportunity, retail, and service sectors, youth and education, the creative industries, culture, social services, sports, and tourism. Everyone in this category should be able to apply quickly, and with as few bureaucratic hurdles as possible, for grants that will help keep them and their businesses afloat. The Berlin Senate is doing everything it can to ensure that all Berliners are able to weather the crisis.

If you are in this category, please note the following points that are a prerequisite for assistance:
  • You will need to prove that the grant is necessary to secure your livelihood during the corona crisis.
  • When you apply for a grant, you will need to declare any support from federal or other aid programs or assistance from social services and other state-funded benefits (e.g., short-time compensation [Kurzarbeitergeld], basic income support [Grundsicherung], etc.) that you are receiving or have applied for.
  • Excess or double compensation resulting from the receipt of funds from other programs or measures should be avoided from the outset or should be corrected afterwards. The grant therefore acts as liquidity assistance until the entitlement to other funds can be clarified or utilized.
  • Grants are limited to a maximum of €5,000. If necessary, they can be applied for (and received) more than once: after six months for individuals and after three months for companies with two or more people.
    We will make an announcement as soon as applications can be submitted to the Investitionsbank Berlin.

You can submit your grant application online to the Investitionsbank Berlin since Friday, 27 March 2020.

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The liquidity problems that result when customer orders are cancelled or businesses are required by the authorities to close are not considered a reason to end a vocational training contract. This is regulated by the conditions of the vocational training contract. The employers providing the training must ensure that apprentices have the opportunity to learn the occupation for which they are being trained (§ 14 (1) 1 BBiG).

Only if economic difficulties mean that no one is left to provide the training and the apprentice therefore no longer has the opportunity to learn, if the company shuts down permanently, or if the apprentice can no longer be paid do both parties have the right to terminate the vocational training contract without notice (§ 22 (2) 1 BBiG).

In addition, apprentices may not be forced to take vacation time. Vacation time must be requested by the apprentice and may usually not be mandated by the employer against the apprentice’s will. Apprentices may not be forced to take any overtime hours they may have accrued. Apprentices themselves or the company’s employee representative can reach an agreement with the management on a case-by-case basis. Employers do have the authority to mandate company vacation time, but not just for apprentices. Rather, it has to apply to everyone.

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If there is reason to believe that one of your employees could be infected, you should contact the relevant health office immediately, regardless of the symptoms. The health office may send the person in question into quarantine.

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According to the Protection against Infection Act, employees have a right to compensation equal to the full amount of their wages for up to six weeks. Employers can apply to the Senate Department for Finance to have this compensation reimbursed, as long as the quarantine or the prohibition against working was mandated by one of Berlin’s health offices. If the quarantine lasts longer than six weeks, employees must apply to the Senate Department for Finance themselves for compensation.

People who are self-employed are also entitled to compensation for the loss of earnings. It is calculated for each month at one-twelfth of their usual annual earnings (§15 SGB IV).

Here, too, the person in question must have been prohibited from working by a Berlin health office.

The Senate Department for Finance provides information on important prerequisites and applications for compensation.

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There is no legal entitlement to working from home. However, there may be a provision on this option in your company agreement or collective labor agreement. In any case, it would be worth your while to speak to your employer about it.

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Employers have a “duty of care” towards their employees. That applies to those who are sick as well as to those who are still healthy. If an employer sends an employee home as a precautionary measure, the employee has a right to continued payment of wages. If the employee is sick, their wages must be paid for up to six weeks.

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Children, young people, schools, and higher education

The vocational secondary schools (Oberstufenzentren) have been closed since Monday, 16 March 2020, and all of the other schools have been closed since Tuesday, 17 March 2020. All class trips, excursions, and other school-related events have also been cancelled.
You can find out more about the schools being closed at:
https://www.berlin.de/sen/bjf/coronavirus/aktuelles/

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Parents can pick up a form at their child’s school or daycare center, which they are to fill out and return to the school or daycare center. The Berlin Senate has agreed that parents in certain occupations are entitled to emergency supervision for their children. In the current situation, the children of parents in especially critical occupations are entitled to emergency supervision even if only one parent is employed in one of these occupations. Others are entitled to emergency supervision if both parents work in one of these areas. Occupations to which the one-parent rule applies are, for instance:
  • Physicians, nursing staff, and cleaning staff in hospitals
  • Police
  • Firefighters
  • Correctional officers
  • Retail personnel (grocery stores and drugstores)
    Occupations to which the two-parent rule applies are, for instance:
  • Members of the crisis management team
  • Personnel necessary to the operation of the BVG, S-Bahn, BWB, BSR, other local public transportation companies, public utilities and waste management companies, and energy companies (electricity, gas)
  • Employees in public institutions, authorities, and offices, as well as in emergency relief
  • Personnel needed to provide emergency supervision in daycare centers and schools
  • Journalists

You can find a complete list of the occupations entitled to emergency supervision for children on the website of the Senate Department for Education under “Notbetreuung”.

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You can find information on applying for emergency supervision, the forms to use, and other information on the information pages of the Senate Department for Education. The most important documents have also been translated into different languages.

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Music schools, adult education centers, art schools for young people, and similar facilities are closed.

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From 18 March 2020 to 19 April 2020, public, private, and denominational institutions of higher education in Berlin, their facilities, and non-university research institutes are closed to the public and to classroom teaching. Libraries cannot open to the public, and cafeterias run by the student union are also closed.

Students, faculty, and employees are requested to address specific questions to their own institution. The institutions have set up their own websites to meet this need.

You can find current information on the measures being taken to fight the spread of the coronavirus on the Senate Chancellery – Higher Education and Research’s page.

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Asylum

Yes, it is still possible to submit applications for asylum. However, in most cases, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) is currently accepting the applications that were previously submitted in person (with “Formularanträge”) only in writing.

First, however, you need to be registered at the arrival center in Berlin, which is where you will also be given an initial medical exam. You may also be tested for coronavirus there.

All of the forms you need to file an application for asylum will be given to you at the arrival center. After your application has been filled out, it will be sent to the BAMF with a copy of your proof of arrival (Ankunftsnachweis). The BAMF will review and process your application and will send you their decision by mail.

You can find more information at:

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The health office will put you under quarantine at the initial reception center. Everyone who has COVID-19 or is a close contact of someone who has it will be put under quarantine. That means that you cannot leave your accommodation or your apartment for 14 days, and you cannot have any direct contact to anyone outside your accommodation or your apartment. Anyone who violates the quarantine restrictions faces penalties.

The State Office for Refugee Affairs (LAF) provides information in several languages on information sheets, podcasts, and its own FAQ on protecting against infection in refugee accommodations.

The Welcome Center Berlin also has information on coronavirus on Facebook.

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No, no one can be deported because of a coronavirus infection. All deportations to other EU countries have also just been stopped, which means that “Dublin transfers” will not take place for the time being.

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Classroom teaching for integration and language classes has been suspended for the time being. Centralized examinations have also been cancelled. This does not count as an absence for you, and there will be no penalties.
The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) recommends a number of online language classes that you can do.

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Traffic, travel, mobility

Yes, although it’s definitely advisable to avoid unnecessary trips, and the available public transportation will be reduced somewhat during peak times now that the schools have been closed, since there has already been a sharp decline in demand. The U-Bahn line U55 has been shut down, for instance, while other lines are running on the holiday schedule. However, the BVG and the S-Bahn will ensure that the many people who work in hospitals, security services, care facilities, pharmacies, etc. are able to get to work and that there is enough room on the remaining trains, trams, and buses for passengers to maintain distance from one another, thereby reducing the risk of new infections. However, we cannot rule out additional cutbacks in public transportation in the future if many of the people necessary to its operation were to fall ill or go into quarantine.

That’s why the Senate Department, the BVG, and the S-Bahn have already adopted measures designed to protect passengers and drivers. That includes partitioning off the driver’s compartment, stopping the sale of bus tickets by the driver, and having all of the S-Bahn doors open automatically at each stop (applies only to models with this capability). The vehicle cleaning schedule has also been stepped up. Special operational plans and hygiene rules have been instituted to keep operations centers, headquarters, and repair shops functioning. The BVG is using its own channels to advise passengers on precautionary measures, such as maintaining distance to others and coughing into their elbows. You can find more information here.

In addition, Berlin’s public bicycle rental system Nextbike will offer free rides for rentals of up to 30 minutes from 17 March to 19 April 2020.

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Regional train service in Berlin and Brandenburg is still in operation, but with limitations. Since there may be further cutbacks in the future, passengers should check the information provided by the Verkehrsverbund Berlin-Brandenburg. For the time being, train service to Poland has been suspended, as have the S-Bahn lines S26 (Teltow Stadt – Waidmannslust), S45 (Flughafen Schönefeld – Südkreuz), and S85 (Grünau – Pankow). These particular routes are covered by other S-Bahn lines.

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The Robert Koch Institute has defined various regions and countries as high-risk areas. That means there are more new infections there than in other countries. The RKI website also has more information on areas in Germany with a particularly high concentration of cases.

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The Foreign Office is warning against all non-essential travel. A program is currently in place to bring back German travelers who are in areas that have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus.

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Anyone arriving at the Berlin-Tegel (Otto Lilienthal) airport or entering the city of Berlin through the Berlin-Schönefeld airport from a country outside the Federal Republic of Germany – including those on connecting flights from other German airports – are obliged to make their way directly to their apartment or usual place of residence and to stay there for a period of 14 days after their arrival. In addition, they must register with their borough health office.

More details can be found in the ordinance of 2 April 2020 under Part 6.

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Personal responsibility, health, hygiene

Follow the general recommendations for hygiene that also apply to influenza viruses, for instance:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Do not sneeze into your hands; rather, cover your mouth with the crook of your arm
  • Try not to touch your face with your hands
  • Avoid shaking hands
  • Maintain distance to anyone who is ill
  • Air rooms frequently

The Robert Koch Institute recommends that people with general respiratory problems stay home.

If you are in quarantine in your own home because of a confirmed or suspected coronavirus case, please comply with the Federal Ministry of the Environment’s guidelines on the safe disposal of waste.

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Face masks are not considered helpful for healthy persons. If a person with a respiratory infection has to enter a public space, wearing a mask covering the nose and mouth may help to reduce the risk of infecting other people (protection of others). This does not apply to the recommendations for medical staff on using masks for occupational health purposes.

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There is no vaccine for coronavirus. Current information about the new coronavirus indicates that people over 60 and people with chronic illnesses are especially at risk. Two of the most frequent pathogens causing lung infections are pneumococci and pertussis.

The Senate Department recommends that everyone in the risk group be vaccinated against pneumococci and pertussis. A lung infected by another pathogen can more easily contract coronavirus – and vice versa. Such a complication would considerably impede treatment and put the patient at special risk.

To avoid this complication, we recommend a pneumococcal and pertussis vaccination for all persons aged 60 and older and persons with underlying medical conditions.

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In the current situation and in line with changes to the criteria by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Senate Department for Health recommends that you be evaluated if you have even mild symptoms, such as a cough, sneezing, or a sore throat, and

  • … you had contact within the last 14 days with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, or
  • … you have an underlying medical condition and/or your respiratory symptoms get worse (shortness of breath, high fever, etc.), or
  • … you work or volunteer in a place in which you come in contact with people who are at higher risk (e.g., the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions).

Even before you have any test results, you should self-isolate at home, maintain a distance of two meters to other people, follow the rules for handwashing, and (if you have one) wear a mask covering your mouth and nose when in contact with others.

People who meet these criteria should contact the relevant health office so their case can be evaluated. Based on the criteria of the RKI and the patient’s individual situation, the public health officer (Amtsarzt) will make a decision on how to proceed and on whether the patient should be quarantined at home or needs to be treated in the hospital. If a test is done and you are waiting for the results, please self-isolate at home – initially, for 14 days – and follow the general rules on hygiene.

In the case of those who have acute symptoms and/or clinical signs of a respiratory illness caused by a virus, but who have had no contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, the patient’s doctor will make a decision on how to proceed.

If your doctor decides that a test is necessary, the costs for the test will be assumed by the patient’s health insurance. People who do not have German health insurance will have to clarify with their own health insurance company whether that company will assume the costs.

All contacts should be established by telephone first. Direct contact with other people should be avoided.

The Senate Department for Health has set up a hotline that you can reach at (030) 9028-2828. In addition, you may call the association of statutory health insurance physicians at 116117.

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Coronavirus – also known as SARS-CoV-2 – causes COVID-19 disease and can infect both animals and humans. The symptoms caused by the virus may range in severity from a sore throat to a mild cold to a severe respiratory ailment. Not everyone who is infected will develop symptoms. There is currently no complete consensus among researchers on the symptoms. According to the Robert Koch Institute, frequent symptoms found in conjunction with a coronavirus infection are fever, a cough, and respiratory problems, while a runny nose is less frequent. Diarrhea can also be a symptom, but is even less frequent.

Charité Berlin has developed a browser-based coronavirus app that will help you decide whether or not your symptoms indicate a coronavirus infection, before you call a screening center.

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Coronavirus hotline

The Senate Department for Health, Long-Term Care and Gender Equality set up a hotline to advise Berliners who believe they may have contracted the virus. More information

Governing Mayor about the current situation

On the evening of 16 March 2020, the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, gave a televised speech about the current situation in the city which was broadcast by Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb). The Press and Information Office of the State of Berlin is publishing the complete text. More information