What you need to know about Germany’s new at-home coronavirus tests

On Wednesday, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) issued the first three special approvals for coronavirus rapid tests that anyone can use at home.

What you need to know about Germany's new at-home coronavirus tests
A child is Austria taking a coronavirus at-home test on February 18th. Photo: DPA

That means that anybody can purchase the tests – raising hopes that public life could open faster as more people turn to them as a precaution before attending events or visiting vulnerable groups. 

Here’s what you need to know about the roll-out of the rapid tests.

Which tests currently have approval?

Since the beginning of February, manufacturers have applied for special approval for around 30 rapid tests, with the BfArM giving the green light to three of them. 

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn told ARD and ZDF’s Morgenmagazin that the tests would be available in stores in the next few days, meaning they would be “accessible at a low threshold.” 

He said he expects there will be further approvals in the next week.

Where can the rapid be obtained?

The home tests will soon be available virtually everywhere – in pharmacies, supermarkets and on the Internet. It remains to be seen how quickly providers will be able to supply them – and how demand and prices will develop. 

The federal and state governments plan to discuss on March 3rd how quickly such rapid tests could also be offered for free.

READ ALSO: Germany plans free coronavirus rapid tests for all residents

How easy is it to test yourself at home?

There’s a big plus for the new rapid tests: The sample with the cotton swab can be taken in the anterior nasal region, and thus easily carried out at home. The professional rapid tests, on the other hand, collect the sample material far back in the nose or deep in the throat – meaning that a specialist is needed to assist.

No additional laboratory equipment is needed for the rapid tests. The principle is similar to a pregnancy test: after 15 to 20 minutes, test strips indicate whether the patient is coronavirus positive or negative.

The Frankfurt virologist Sandra Ciesek sees few problems with the at-home tests: “I think everyone gets how to do a nasal smear, and if not, there are enough videos to show them how,” she said in the NDR podcast “Coronavirus Update”. 

How could public life reopen with the new Covid-19 test?

Such a rapid test for Sars-CoV-2 would make it easier to visit grandparents spontaneously, for example, as long as they are not vaccinated.

Theatres and cinemas could reopen, and concerts and sporting events could take place, with the negative test serving as the “extra ticket” to enter.

Is a negative result a free pass to do whatever you want then?

No, emphasised the Robert Koch Institute (RKI): “A negative test result does not rule out SarsCoV2 infection!” Even if the test is performed correctly, it is “merely less likely” to be infectious. 

In addition, the significance is limited in time – the result can be different the very next day. 

The approved tests, however, have to have at least 80 percent accuracy. 

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.