Germany plans to allow sale of Covid-19 home test kits in pharmacies

Coronavirus rapid 'at-home' tests could soon be available to buy in Germany.

Germany plans to allow sale of Covid-19 home test kits in pharmacies
A woman holding a negative coronavirus rapid test. Photo: DPA

The Health Ministry is planning an amendment to the Medical Devices Dispensing Regulation, which would mean easy-to-use Covid-19 tests could be sold over the counter in pharmacies.

The current rapid antigen tests are only given to doctors, medical and nursing institutions, while educational institutions have also been allowed to use them since December.

But the changes to legislation would give the general public more access to rapid tests.

Some private companies already sell rapid tests online. The costs can vary, from around €80 to over €200.

The Ministry's draft document states that tests for self-use will play a big role in containing the pandemic in future.

“Such tests are an important contribution to optimising the testing strategy in Germany,” says the draft.

These tests are not yet available, according to the Ministry and the Federal Association of German Pharmacists (ABDA), but they are being developed.

Before “tests for self-administration” can go on sale, they have to go through a special approval procedure. According to the Ministry, it has to be proven that they work well and can be used by the general public.

The managing director of the Diagnostics Industry Association, Martin Walger, told DPA on Monday that it would take “a few weeks” until approval happens. 

READ ALSO: How and when can I receive a Covid-19 test in Germany?

According to Walger, there are different ways of carrying out rapid tests, including nose swabs and saliva tests.

Test prices would be calculated and decided individually by each manufacturer and also by pharmacies. The tests will also probably differ in their quality and the way the work so that would be reflected in the price.

In addition to the self-tests, the planned amendment of the laws by the Health Ministry also provides for more possibilities to use the existing rapid antigen tests in professional life.

To this end, the number of institutions that will have access to the rapid tests is to be expanded. “Critical infrastructures” will also be given the opportunity to acquire tests, the draft states. Among others, the energy, IT, telecommunications, transport and traffic sectors are mentioned.

The Social Democrat's health expert Karl Lauterbach called for regular testing in companies.

“Studies show quite clearly: if the workforces of companies were tested twice a week with an antigen test, so to speak, at the start of work, those who are not in the home office, then one would be able to massively reduce the number of new infections,” he said in an interview with broadcaster RTL/ntv.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.