Free coronavirus tests for everyone in Bavaria: What you need to know
Bavaria, the German state hit hardest by coronavirus, is offering Covid-19 tests to all its residents free of charge. Here's what you need to know about the plan, and whether more states are likely to follow.
"Faster, free of charge and for everyone": Under this motto Bavaria has approved a plan to make coronavirus tests possible for all citizens.
Who can be tested for Covid-19?
Bavaria is the first federal state in Germany to offer free coronavirus tests for everyone.
That means from Wednesday July 1st even those who don't have any symptoms will be given a guarantee in "the shortest possible time that there is a possibility to take a test and receive it promptly", said state premier Markus Söder, of the centre-right CSU party, reported Bavarian broadcaster BR24.
In principle, according to Söder, priority will first be given to suspected cases with symptoms and their contact persons. There is a 24-hour guarantee for these cases: so that means they are to be tested within 24 hours, and the results are to be available within another 24 hours.
This concept will gradually be ramped up to ensure everyone can be tested quickly.
Where can I get tested?
The tests should be carried out by doctors at their practice. However, doctors are not obliged to test anyone who asks for a test, health minister Melanie Huml said.
If there are many doctors who choose not to carry out tests, a list of doctors who are doing testing will be drawn up and residents can turn to them.
Who will cover the costs?
At the moment public health insurance companies cover the costs of coronavirus tests for those with Covid1-9 symptoms (such as fever or coughing) or to people who have come into contact with someone with coronavirus.
Under current rules, there are also is also frequent free testing among high-risk groups in, for example, retirement homes, hospitals and daycare centres.
In all cases where health insurance organisations are not obliged to pay for tests, the state of Bavaria will cover the costs.
Why is Bavaria taking this action?
"Test, test, test" is the strategy that state premier Söder wants Bavaria to follow in a bid to keep the spread of coronavirus as low as possible.
Tests – even on people without symptoms, – are an "early warning system" - and could prevent a larger spread, said Söder.
"Testing is also prevention," Söder added.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, as of June 30th, Bavaria – which has about 13 million residents – had recorded 48,400 coronavirus cases since the start of the outbreak with 2,594 deaths. It's the highest amount of cases and deaths of any state in Germany.
How often can I get tested?
People can get tested more than once. Söder stressed that there was no limit: "So not just one test once, but the test can be repeated several times," he said.
Can I remove my mask after a negative test, or ignore rules?
No. Söder made it clear that a negative test result did not mean that people could stop wearing masks, or ignoring social distance rules or any other coronavirus regulations.
How many tests are possible in Bavaria every day?
According to Söder, the capacity for corona testing in Bavaria is currently 20,000 per day. In future, 30,000 tests per day should be possible.
The state plans to set aside around €200 million this year to pay for the initiative.
"Sure, it costs money", said the state premier. "But in the end, we must not save at the expense of safety."
Can non-Bavarians be tested as well?
The free tests are primarily intended only for residents registered in Bavaria. According to health minister Huml, it's an "offer for the Bavarian population", not for "all German citizens" or tourists.
Exceptions can be made, however, if someone spends a lot of time in Bavaria for professional reasons, for example – or has had a doctor here for a long time despite living in another state.
State premier Markus Söder. Photo: DPA
What about screening for medical staff or teachers?
The Bavarian test concept also provides for prevention in "areas at risk of infection" – through screening of employees in old people's homes and nursing homes as well as in facilities for people with disabilities.
According to the state, residents are tested "randomly and on (re)admission and return". In hospitals, new employees are tested; further tests are to be carried out depending on the local infection rate and the risk of infection.
Kindergarten teachers should also have the opportunity to be tested before summer holidays start.
Bavaria's 9,800 daycare centres (Kitas) are returning to limited operation from Wednesday July 1st and this will be accompanied by screening.
Tests are also planned for teachers at the beginning of the new school year. The costs will be covered by the state and they are voluntary.
What does the Bavarian opposition say?
The Social Democrats (SPD) in the state parliament say the expansion of tests is overdue. Regular tests, especially in clinics and homes, are especially important, said Ruth Waldmann, health policy spokeswoman of the SPD faction.
However, now the government had to deliver on the plan, and keep the funding up.
Currently, €272 million is earmarked for the tests. "This is not enough for the promised area-wide tests", said Waldmann.
"The money is roughly enough for one test for half of the Bavarian population."
What about the accusation that Bavaria is only testing more to justify restrictions?
Recently, the Bavarian branch of Alternative for Germany (AfD) had accused the state government that the expansion of coronavirus tests only served to increase the official number of cases.
According to Söder, the accusation that the tests are being expanded in order to be able to justify tough measures by increasing the number of cases is absurd.
Söder defended the move by saying Germany's aggressive testing approach has proved better than many others across the world.
The strategy of ignoring coronavirus, for example, ended in "absolute disaster", as the example of the US showed, he said.
The Swedish concept of consciously accepting infections and achieving "herd immunity" cannot be considered more successful either, according to Söder, given the death figures there. He added: "We continue to test – even against the resistance of the AfD."
Will this be rolled out in other states?
In an interview with the newspaper "Augsburger Allgemeine", state premier Söder said he hoped other states would offer free tests to everyone.
So far, however, state premiers have reacted cautiously to Bavaria's announcement.
North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Armin Laschet said it was more important to focus mass testing on areas affected. In districts around the virus outbreak at Tönnies meat factory in NRW, testing was offered to all residents.
Berlin's governing mayor Michael Müller said mass testing was a possibility for Berlin in future.
Jens Spahn appeared to show some support for Bavaria's testing plan, but said people shouldn't get a false sense of security.
"Extensive testing makes sense, especially to contain regional outbreaks. We have adapted our federal testing concept accordingly," Spahn told DPA.
"However, testing is only a snapshot. It shouldn't lull you into a false sense of security."