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Coronavirus: How, where and when to get tested or self-quarantine in Germany

The Local Germany
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Coronavirus: How, where and when to get tested or self-quarantine in Germany
A health worker with a protective mask. Photo: DPA

As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Germany grows, there is some confusion over how and when people should get tested or self-quarantine themselves.


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When we asked our readers about their questions over coronavirus, some said they were worried about the procedures when it comes to being tested and self-quarantine in Germany.

Here we look at the current situation and some of the concerns reported when being tested for the virus, as well as providing the latest information.

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What should you do if you have concerns about coronavirus?

According to the federal Health Ministry, people who’ve come into contact (regardless of travel) with a person who has been laboratory tested for the COVID-19 virus should contact the responsible health authority where they live by phone immediately, regardless of symptoms. 

An individual interview will be conducted by their local public health department in order to determine the individual risk and determine measures to be taken. At the same time, they will advise and coordinate medical care if symptoms occur.

People who have stayed in a risk area designated by the Robert Koch Institute should – regardless of symptoms – avoid unnecessary contact and stay at home if possible. If symptoms (such as fever, coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath) occur, they should observe the rules for coughing and sneezing as well as good hand hygiene, and should consult their doctor by phone. The doctor will advise the next steps. 

For travellers from regions in which COVID-19 cases occur, but which are not risk areas, the following applies: if you develop fever, cough or shortness of breath within 14 days of your return journey, you should – after giving notice by telephone and referring to your recent trip – consult a doctor.

You should also avoid unnecessary contact, stay at home if possible, observe the rules for coughing and sneezing, and maintain good hand hygiene.

Photo: DPA

'Hardly any information'

People affected by the outbreak have been reporting how Germany is dealing with it.

Berlin's Tagesspiegel wrote on Friday March 6th that authorities appear to be struggling, saying some people in quarantine feel "abandoned".

The newspaper spoke to a woman in her late 20s who’s been confined to her home since Monday after coming into contact with someone confirmed to have coronavirus. However, she said there was a lack of information – and she wasn’t tested for the virus for several days after it became known she had come into contact with an infected person. 

A health worker in protective clothing visited the woman on Thursday to take a throat swab for testing.

"It’s really annoying when the Health Senator publicly announces that all contact persons have been tested and you yourself are sitting at home with hardly any information," the woman told the Tagesspiegel.

The woman said that she found initial information to be "very vague" and questioned why there was no uniform procedure.

"The worst thing is that each district handles suspected cases differently," she said.

Meanwhile, Spiegel journalist Juan Moreno, who has recently returned from Milan in northern Italy, wrote on Thursday about his problems when trying to get tested for coronavirus in the Berlin area.

After fearing he had been near someone who had come into contact with an infected person, Morena and his wife Gabriela Scherer decided to self-quarantine. 

The couple live in the state of Brandenburg, just outside Berlin. However they said it was confusing to find out how they – and their children who had colds – should get tested. 

For two days they tried to get information via the Berlin Senate's advisory hotline. "I called there 20 times, and it was always busy," said Scherer.

Eventually, after conflicting information, they were advised to visit the central contact point for testing at the Virchow Clinic in Berlin where they waited seven hours in a waiting room.

"That's when we realised how little Berlin is prepared," said Scherer.

Scherer said, however, that there have been positive moments throughout the experience – for example lots of people have offered to help while the family is in quarantine, and the public health department responsible for them calls once a day to inquire about their condition. 

But the confusion concerns Scherer, especially when it comes to children. "At school a lot of people have influenza and now it's mixed up with the coronavirus," she said. Scherer is in favour of Germany closing schools for two weeks, following Italy’s lead. 

Photo: DPA

German Health Minister Jens Spahn says Germany is well prepared and is continually analysing the situation in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus.

Earlier this week he added that the government was updating its medical guidelines to make sure that overstretched health workers concentrate their efforts "on the most acute" cases if the outbreak worsens.

That could also mean that non-urgent surgeries would be postponed, he said, stressing however that the outbreak wasn't at this stage yet.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: The everyday precautions to take if you're in Germany

When should you stay at home?

To prevent the further spread of coronavirus, the Robert Koch Institute recommends home quarantine for two weeks.

So, for example, if you've spoken face-to-face with an infected person for at least 15 minutes, sat in the same row of the cinema or the same row of seats on a plane, or been coughed on or sneezed on by an infected person, you're advised to self-quarantine, reports Bavarian broadcaster BR24.

During this time, you should continue to be paid.

Those affected must stay at home and avoid contact with other members of the household as much as possible.

They must take their temperature twice a day and keep a diary of possible symptoms and contact with anyone.

As far as shopping and walking the dog is concerned: those who are in quarantine must ask friends, family or acquaintances to do so. Friends would then have to leave the shopping outside the door of the quarantined person.

What are the penalties for breaking a quarantine?

Violation of forced quarantine (that's when authorities say you must self-isolate at home) can reportedly result in severe penalties – namely a prison sentence of up to two years or a fine. The health authorities check the quarantine by calling the affected person's home to talk to the patient and check how they are doing. 

If no one can be reached, the public health department goes to the person's home and if no one is there, the police are called as a last resort.

Useful numbers

Some hotlines have been set up across Germany so that people can get information about coronavirus.

The Independent Patient Advice Service Germany can be reached by calling 0800 011 77 22

The Federal Ministry of Health hotline is 030 346 465 100:

People in Berlin can contact the hotline: 030 902 828 28 daily from 8am to 8pm.

Those living in Brandenburg can contact the hotline 033 186 83777 from 9am to 3pm Monday through Friday.

In Hamburg concerned residents can call 040 428 284 000, and it's available at any time of day.

The state of Hesse has set up a hotline for questions about coronavirus: 0800 555 4666, Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm.

The North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Health has set up a citizens' number for questions about coronavirus: 0211 855 4774, Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.

For Rhineland-Palatinate, the state has set up a hotline for questions: 0800 575 8100, Mondays to Thursdays from 9am to 4pm and Fridays from 9am to 12 noon.

In Thuringia, the State Office for Consumer Protection has a hotline at: 0361 573 815 099, Mondays to Fridays from 9am to noon and from 1.30pm to 3pm.

However, keep in mind that the lines may be busy.

Health insurance organisations can also be contacted with questions about coronavirus.

READ ALSO: Should you cancel your trip to (or from) Germany?

What do you do if a hotline is unavailable?

The general advice is to try and contact your doctor by phone. Only people who’ve been recommended to receive a coronavirus test should go to a specially designated hospital testing point such as the Virchow-Klinikum in Berlin.

Further outpatient coronavirus testing spots in hospitals will likely follow.

For patients who are not mobile or able to get to to a testing point, there are procedures in place for health professionals to visit homes for testing.

Are tests covered by health insurance?

According to German authorities, since February 28th 2020, health insurance companies have been paying for testing of the coronavirus.

However, a doctor needs to confirm that the patient should be tested.

READ ALSO: Map: The parts of Germany most affected by the coronavirus outbreak



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