How Germany hopes to prevent care home deaths with rapid test strategy
Authorities are planning for widespread testing in care homes across Germany from October 15th as part of a new national testing strategy.
Health Minister Jens Spahn announced on Sunday that so-called rapid coronavirus tests in hospitals and nursing homes will be carried out across the board later this month. The programme forms part of a draft bill detailing a national testing strategy for Germany.
"Rapid tests are particularly suitable for visitors, employees, residents and patients of nursing homes and hospitals," Spahn told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
"In this way, we can prevent old and sick fellow citizens from becoming infected. For them, the risk of serious consequences of an infection is the greatest."
The question of when and under what conditions the rapid tests would be paid for by health insurance organisations is to be settled by October 15th.
Old people's and nursing homes are to carry out coronavirus tests throughout the country from October 15th onwards in order to better protect residents, staff and visitors from the virus.
According to the report, the 23-page draft bill for a national test strategy by the Health Ministry also provides for similarly generous regulations for hospitals, facilities for outpatient surgery, doctors' and dentists' practices, dialysis facilities, practices of human medical health professionals and outpatient nursing services.
If an infection is detected in such establishments, anyone who has been present in the previous 10 days is entitled to a test. The aim is to better protect particularly vulnerable people, the draft states.
How will it work?
According to the Health Ministry, nursing homes should, for example, be provided with a monthly quota for so-called rapid antigen tests, which are designed to tell in a few minutes whether someone has the virus. Up to 50 tests per resident a month are planned.
An institution with 80 residents could therefore use up to 4,000 tests per month. The rapid tests would be paid for by the Health Fund (Gesundheitsfonds) from which statutory health insurance funds receive their money. The Ministry estimates a triple-digit million amount for this, depending on the development of testing activities.
The German Foundation for Patient Protection (Deutsche Stiftung Patientenschutz) has been urging the government to act quickly.
More than half of the people who have died after contracting Covid-19 lived in nursing homes.
"Here, the risk group lives together in a very confined space. Therefore, it's well overdue for the Health Ministry to launch an efficient test strategy for nursing care for the elderly," said board member Eugen Brysch to DPA.
According to Brysch, there are four million people in need of care in Germany and 900,000 live in homes.
"But corona tests do not protect against the virus," he said. "So basic hygiene protection and a functioning contact documentation are still necessary. It's only this way that it's possible to trace at any time who was in contact with whom."
He said it would also be beneficial to include staff and relatives in the concept.
On Monday the Robert Koch Institute reported 1,382 new cases of coronavirus in Germany. Experience shows that the number of cases decreases slightly on Sundays and Mondays due to a delay in reporting from health authorities at the weekend.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 300,600 people in Germany are confirmed to have picked up Covid-19.
A total of 9,534 people are reported to have died and an estimated 263,700 people have recovered.
The number of daily cases have been exceeding the 2,500 threshold in recent days, prompting authorities to tighten measures and urge for more caution across the population.