What you need to need to know about Bavaria’s coronavirus testing fiasco

Bavarian premier Markus Söder apologised after 44,000 people were forced to wait over a week for coronavirus test results. Can he smooth out the crisis?

What you need to need to know about Bavaria's coronavirus testing fiasco
Bavarian premier Markus Söder. Photo: DPA

What happened?

Söder was forced to apologise on Thursday over an embarrassing delay to thousands of coronavirus test results, just as Germany was seeing a new spike in virus cases.

Some 44,000 people who took advantage of free coronavirus tests in the southern German state have had to wait more than a week for their results, Bavarian health minister Melanie Huml admitted on Wednesday.

These included around 1,000 people who tested positive, Huml said at Thursday's press conference, adding that 900 of them had now been identified and were being informed after officials worked through the night to clear the backlog.

Many of those tested were travellers returning to Bavaria and other parts of Germany after their holidays.

“This is a difficult situation, no question,” Söder told a press conference in Munich, calling the delays “annoying” and “regrettable”.

“The entire state government is sorry that these mistakes were made… and that now many people are unsettled,” he said.

Huml said the delay, which affected tests carried out at centres along the region's motorways and in train stations, had been caused by problems with processing handwritten contact details.

READ ALSO: Bavaria hit by coronavirus testing amid rise in number of cases in Germany

Will heads roll?

Söder said his health minister had offered her resignation but he had not accepted it, calling the delay a failure “not of strategy, but of execution”.

Green party politician Michael Kellner, however, said on Twitter that it was “the result of a policy that focuses on style instead of substance”.

“The fact that no one is facing personal consequences after a scandal of this magnitude is an indictment and damages our political culture permanently,” said Daniel Föst, head of the state's Free Democrats (FDP).

“Huml is no longer acceptable as health minister after the test disaster.”

Andreas Zapf who was head of the State Office for Health and Food Safety, is to be replaced following the debacle.

Health minister Melanie Huml and state premier Markus Söder. Photo: DPA

This move was also met with criticism from the opposition.

Vice-president of the Bavarian state parliament, Markus Rinderspacher of the Social Democrats (SPD), tweeted: “Now an administrative officer is taking political responsibility for a striking misconduct that had its origin in the carelessness of the state government. That is responsibility culture à la CSU”.

Will this fiasco dent Söder's image?

Söder has won plaudits for his handling of the coronavirus crisis in Bavaria, being the first to implement several measures in his state that were later adopted on a federal level.

He has also topped recent surveys on who Germans would like to see as their next chancellor after Angela Merkel's term comes to an end in autumn 2021.

READ ALSO: Is Bavaria's leader on course to become Germany's next chancellor?

But the testing debacle could dent his public image, coming just as concerns grow in Germany over rising virus cases and the possibility of a second wave.

The country recorded 1,449 new cases in 24 hours on Friday – the highest number seen since early May.

Numbers have been slowly creeping up over the past few weeks, with ministers blaming travellers returning from holidays and young people having parties.

Anyone returning to Germany from an area deemed high risk is required to take a coronavirus test.

Germany has so far fared better than many of its neighbours in its handling of the crisis, but Söder said Thursday that returning holidaymakers would represent a big challenge in the coming weeks.

“The holidays are a big risk for infection in our country,” he said.

“The numbers are increasing and if we are not careful we will be in a very difficult situation in a few weeks.”

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now