Germany plans free coronavirus rapid tests for all residents

Germany plans free coronavirus rapid tests for all residents
A pharmacy in Stuttgart offers rapid Covid tests for a fee. Photo: DPA
Germany is to offer free Covid-19 antigen tests to everyone in the country from next month to tackle the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

“From March 1st , all citizens will be able to be tested free of charge by trained personnel” with the tests, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a tweet.

Spahn, who is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is planning an overhaul of the country's National Test Strategy, which he will present to the Corona Cabinet.

Unlike PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that must be analysed in a lab, antigen testing can be done from saliva with a result given on the spot within 30 minutes.

That makes it easier and faster to test large numbers of people, though antigen tests are less reliable in detecting Covid-19 in people who are not showing symptoms.

According to the plans, free rapid tests should not only be available in public health test centres, but also in doctors' practices, dentists and pharmacies.

“There are now significantly more rapid tests available on the market,” Spahn told German media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on Tuesdsay.. “Therefore, all citizens should be able to be tested free of charge by trained staff with rapid antigen tests.”

The government has already expanded the use of rapid tests. They are now used in nursing homes, clinics and after outbreaks, also in schools – but for the time being only by trained staff.

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Germany to offer more Covid-19 self-administered tests

The expansion of the National Test Strategy also provides for Covid-19 self-testing kits to be accessible to all after their expected approval by the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM).

The Health Ministry is already in negotiations with various manufacturers to secure supplies of self-tests for the German market.

As soon as these 'at home test kits' are available in sufficient numbers, they would be used as part of the testing strategy for daycare centres (Kitas) and schools, according to the proposal by the Health Ministry.

As well as this, home test kits are to be made available to everyone, although they are expected to cost around €1.

Self-administered tests in particular could play an important role as Germany eyes reopening schools and some other facilities after more than three months of closures.

“The new lay rapid tests will be tested and approved as quickly as possible,” Spahn said.

“These tests can contribute to a safe everyday life, especially in schools and daycare centres.”

READ ALSO: Germany plans to allow sale of Covid-19 home test kits

Germany on Tuesday recorded 3,856 new cases of Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours and 528 deaths, according to the RKI.

Test strategy changes

Germany changed its test strategy in November, scaling back on the number of Covid tests offered, in order for laboratories to cope during the winter season, and to avoid overloading doctors' surgeries.

Authorities said this was because so many people have colds and flu in winter with similar symptoms to coronavirus.

They instead urged people with cold symptoms to isolate, and aimed to only offer testing to those with strong Covid-19 symptoms or people who had been in contact with an infected person.

If someone suspects they have Covid-19 they can ask their doctor for a test covered by health insurance, but it is at the doctor's discretion to allow it.


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