Germany to expand coronavirus testing for people without symptoms

Germany is planning on making coronavirus testing more widespread, even for those who show no symptoms of the disease, according to an ordinance announced by Health Minister Jens Spahn on Tuesday.

Germany to expand coronavirus testing for people without symptoms
Photo: DPA

The Federal Ministry of Health stated that “comprehensive testing” will occur in care homes, as well as Kitas and schools whenever there is an outbreak so that “infections will be quickly recognised and interrupted.”

“We want to nip the virus in the bud,” said Spahn of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU). “This can only be done with preventive screening tests in hospitals and nursing homes and if we test as many contact people of infected persons as possible.” 

He added that Germany has the funding to sufficiently cover the increased testing. By the end of May, more than 425,000 tests were being carried out per week in Germany – a number which Spahn said stands to be doubled. 

“It is much more expensive to test too little than to test too much,” said Spahn. Specifically, all patients who are admitted to hospital will be tested. In addition, health authorities or doctors can arrange for tests to be carried out on people without symptoms.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: Germany plans to test everyone admitted to hospitals and nursing homes

Germany’s statutory health insurance will take on the costs of €50 per test. This will make it possible, for example, to carry out comprehensive tests when there is close contact with infected persons – also in cases when a voluntary corona warning app, slated to launch soon, reports such contact. 

Broad testing will also be possible in the event of corona outbreaks in day-care centres or schools, as well as regular series tests in clinics and nursing homes.

READ ALSO: Germany gets ready to launch coronavirus tracing app

The regulation on health insurance companies covering costs of testing applies retroactively back to May 14th, also for private patients and people without health insurance. 

As of Wednesday June 10th, Germany was carrying out 51,915 Covid-19 tests per million in the population, or less countries harder hit by the pandemic such as Spain and the US.

Graph prepared for The Local by Statista.

Also as of Wednesday, there were 186,522 reported coronavirus cases in Germany, and a total of 170,529 reported recoveries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been a total of 8,748 deaths.

Germany's current R-value lies slightly over the critical value, or 1.11 as of Monday. Experts say it's important to keep the number under 1.

Up to now, health insurance companies have generally only footed the bill for tests with people who have a concrete suspicion of an infection, for example when they already show symptoms of the disease. 

At the beginning of May, the president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Lothar Wieler said that it made sense to test as many people as possible, also if they only showed lighter symptoms, in order to detect the disease and slow its spread as early as possible. 


Comprehensive – umfassend 

Nip (something) in the bud – (etwas) im Keim ersticken 

Suspicion of an infection – (das) Infektionsverdacht 

Care homes – (die) Pflegeheimen

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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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.