How Germany is preparing for a second coronavirus wave

A rising number of infections and hotspots: the fear over a second wave of coronavirus infections in Germany is growing. Just how well prepared is the country this time around?

How Germany is preparing for a second coronavirus wave
Coronavirus testing at Hanover's airport on August 4th. Photo: DPA

According to some medical experts, the second wave of coronavirus is already here in Germany.

The number of new infections are not at the levels they were in March or April. But if cases continue to rise, is Germany well enough equipped in medical supplies, personal, and knowledge?

“German states and cities are now much better prepared following the first infections,” said Gerd Landsberg, director of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities. 

Not only are Germany’s test capacities being continually built up, he said, but more protective equipment is available than at the beginning of the crisis. 

We take a look at how Germany is preparing for more cases.

Protective equipment: Daily protection such as masks were in short supply at the beginning of the crisis, yet now cities and states have stocked up. Protective equipment and masks have been procured “on a large scale”, according to the Association of Towns and Municipalities.

READ ALSO: 'Target clusters and superspreaders': Here's how Germany could prevent a second coronavirus wave

More masks are produced in Weida, Thuringia on July 31st. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: Why a row has broken out in Germany over face masks

“Even though the procurement market is naturally still tight, municipalities, hospitals and doctors' practices are much better equipped,” the association said, adding that it doesn't expect any supply bottlenecks.

The Federal Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung) has also made provisions for protective materials in the practices of general practitioners and specialists. 

Health officials play a central role in tracing chains of infection, and their numbers have been significantly bulked up during the crisis, according to the Association of Towns and Municipalities. 

Nevertheless, the Federal Association of Doctors of the Public Health Service is sounding an alarm: “During the first wave of the pandemic, many health offices almost doubled their staff. But that has now been largely withdrawn again,” said chairwoman Ute Teichert. 

With rising numbers, more staff are again needed in order to track infections, said Landsberg.

Public awareness: Experts are concerned about a decreasing awareness of danger among people in Germany. Many people feel safer today than they did a quarter of a year ago, which is also confirmed by surveys. 

The Robert Koch Institute recently said people were not sticking to social distancing rules.

Pandemics are a “creeping crisis”, so crisis awareness must be kept alive, even during less chaotic periods, said Frank Roselieb, Director of the Institute for Crisis Research in Kiel. 

READ ALSO: 'We are at a new phrase in the epidemic in Germany,' says top health institute

An information form for parents about new hygienic measures is laid out for the first day of schools starting again on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Hospitals: According to Germany’s Association of Hospitals, Krankenhäuser have learned from the first wave of infections – and are using this knowledge to benefit them in the event of a second wave. 

“This applies to the cooperation of different hospitals in regional networks, the further training of personnel in respiratory medicine or the organisation of procedures,” said CEO Georg Baum. 

Isolation wards are also being kept free. “The hospitals are well prepared for a possible second wave,” Baum said.

READ ALSO: Germany ramps up intensive care and hospital capacity in coronavirus fight

Intensive beds: There is still capacity for special beds which can be used to treat coronavirus patients. The register of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (Divi) last reported about 9,000 free intensive care beds.

This corresponds to a share of about 42 percent of the total number of about 21,300 registered intensive care beds. 

The Central Institute for Statutory Health Insurance Physician Care (Zi) does not currently foresee the health care system becoming overburdened. 

Every day, the Institute calculates how much time would remain before inpatient treatment capacities would be exceeded, in light of the current infection rate. Currently, this advance warning period is 73 days. 

Although the threat of overloading the healthcare system is still a long way off, this indicator has declined slightly in recent weeks.

Test capacity: According to the Accredited Laboratories in Medicine (ALM), the test capacity for so-called PCR tests (the standard coronavirus test) is still growing continuously in Germany. 

The ALM laboratories carry out around 85 percent of all corona tests. While at the beginning of April, approximately 330,000 tests were evaluated per week, the test capacity in Germany is currently around 985,000 tests. 

A woman being tested for the virus in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighbourhood. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: 'Nip the virus in the bud': How Germany showed Europe the way on coronavirus testing

Although only just over half of the capacity (55 percent) is currently being used, the utilisation rate has increased recently – probably because many places, such as airports, have begun offering free tests for travellers. Starting this weekend, such tests will become mandatory for those returning from risk areas.

In many states, teachers, educators and daycare workers are also entitled to regular tests without any specific reason.

Coronavirus detection app: The Corona-Warn-App was not yet available in March just as the pandemic was breaking out, but now it's hoped the app can really help keep infections under control.

The days following its launch in June bumpy were bumpy, and several smartphones struggled with technical problems. With the latest version, however, technical difficulties have been addressed. The app aims to help to trace and interrupt chains of infection. 

READ ALSO: 'Only problem is that it's optional': The verdict on Germany's coronavirus tracing app

Further versions are currently in the works, for example in Arabic and Russian. So far, the app launched in Germany is available in German, English and Turkish. It has been downloaded around 16.6 million times.

Free University of Berlin virologist Amr Aswad said the app was the single best move an individual could make to fight the virus, on top of other daily hygienic measures.

“Basically we should all try our best to wear a mask, wash our hands regularly, keep our distance,” he told The Local. “But most importantly we should download the Corona-warn-app. In my opinion this is by far the best thing we can do to fight the pandemic right now.”

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EXPLAINED: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany

Most people now have to pay to get an antigen test in Germany. Here's what you should know about the new rules.

EXPLAINED: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany

What’s happening? 

Until this point everyone in Germany was entitled to at least one free Covid-19 rapid test per week by trained staff. It included a test result certificate which could be delivered to the person by email or in paper. 

But the free-for-all offer has now been “suspended”, according to the Federal Ministry of Health.

The revised testing regulation with the new rules took effect on Thursday June 30th. 

READ ALSO: Germany starts charging for Covid tests 

Who will continue to get a free test?

The Health Ministry says the entitlement to so-called Bürgertests is intended to protect particularly vulnerable people.

These include people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – like women in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Others to receive free access to tests include family carers and people with disabilities, as well as their carers.

Furthermore, household members of people who have Covid, children up to the age of five, and residents and visitors of nursing homes, institutions for people with disabilities and clinics do not have to pay for a rapid test.

A person gets a Covid test swab in Oldenburg.

A person gets a Covid test swab in Oldenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

Visitors and people receiving treatment or residents in inpatient or outpatient hospital facilities can also get free tests, as well as people taking part in Covid clinical trials. 

People who need proof that they are negative after a Covid-19 infection, so they can go back to work for example, can still get tested for free.

Employees of nursing homes and hospitals should continue to take Covid rapid tests in their facilities, says the Health Ministry.

How do people prove they are entitled to a free test?

Anyone who wants to claim free testing must identify themselves to the testing agency and provide proof. For example, a birth certificate or passport (for children), and the maternity pass for pregnant women.

Those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons must present an official medical certificate from their doctor. 

For those getting a test due to a household member being positive, they have to show the positive PCR test of their housemate and proof of matching residential address. 

Who has to pay €3 to get a test?

The €3 tests are intended for private use, including for visits to family celebrations, concerts or another “indoor event”, such as the theatre. 

This is aimed at helping prevent so-called superspreader events, where many people get Covid at once.

A €3 test should also be granted to anyone who gets a red Covid warning on their Corona Warn app, or who plans to meet someone – or people – over the age of 60 or people with a pre-existing illness or disability.

Do you need to provide proof for this?

Yes. The Health Ministry says: “This can be done, for example, by showing an admission ticket to an event, the Corona Warning app or, in the case of contact with high-risk patients, a self-disclosure form or a digital registration process.”

The person getting the test signs a document stating why they are getting the test. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Thursday that documenting why tests were taking place would help stop fraud as random checks can be carried out. 

What other documents are required?

As before, an official photo ID has to be presented, such as a passport.

Will this be a bit confusing in practice?

It does appear to be a little unclear on how things will work. Plus many people in Germany, and tourists, won’t know about the change in rules since it came about so quickly. 

There was also some confusion on the point of visits to elderly or people with previous illnesses. People who visit relatives in clinics or nursing homes can still get a test free of charge. However, the regulation also states that those who want to meet with over-60s or those with previous illnesses must pay an additional €3 for a test.

A spokesman from the Health Ministry said the difference is whether the meeting is in an institution (where the test is free) or if it’s a private meeting (where a €3 payment is due).

READ ALSO: Germany’s planned changes to Covid vaccination status 

Why is the test offer being restricted?

It was getting too expensive. According to Lauterbach, Bürgertests cost €1 billion per month. The government has reportedly spent more than €10.5 billion on free antigen tests during the pandemic, with suspected fraud of up to €1.5 billion.

The government is also reducing the amount that is given to the test centres per antigen test – from the current €11.50 to €9.50.

A total of €6.50 from the federal government will be added to the €3 to reimburse centres.

Will any German states take over the €3 contribution payment for a test?

Lauterbach previously referred to the possibility that federal states could take over the €3 payment for residents, or groups of residents.

The states, however, quickly signalled that there were no plans to do so.

The €3 would not be replaced “in any of the states”, said Baden-Wuerttemberg’s health minister Manne Lucha (Greens) on Tuesday.

What happens if you get Covid symptoms?

People with Covid symptoms should contact their GP. Doctors in Germany can order a PCR test as part of medical treatment if Covid-19, which will be covered by the patient’s health insurance.