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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German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

A wave of Covid infections in Germany is causing staff shortages as many people call in sick and isolate - including in hospitals. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is also increasing slightly.

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

Covid-19 infections are sweeping through the country this summer. On Tuesday, Germany reported 147,489 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 102 deaths.

The number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units in Germany rose to 1,000 on Sunday, and 1,062 on Monday, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI). The number of ICU patients hasn’t been at this level since mid-May.

At the last highest point – in December 2021 – just under 4,900 seriously ill patients were being treated with Covid-19 in ICUs, after which the figures dropped with phases where they plateaued. 

And now the increasing staff shortages – due to people getting Covid and having to isolate – is causing growing concern among hospitals and doctors, especially as experts believe it will get worse after summer. 

“We are receiving reports from all federal states that individual wards and departments are having to be closed, due to a lack of staff,” the head of the board of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

At times, emergency admissions are also being cancelled at rescue coordination centres. “This situation worries us considerably with a view to the upcoming autumn,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Infection figures have risen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 687.7 infections per 100,000 people, but experts believe many cases are going unreported. 

“Although the occupancy rate in intensive care is only rising moderately, it is relatively high for a summer, and the beds available are becoming fewer and fewer due to the shortage of staff,” the scientific director of the ICU registry, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

He said clinics and hospitals should work to allocate capacity across the country.

“This includes regional networks for the best possible distribution of patients by level of care,” he said. “Cooperation, but also relieving the burden on staff, will be the order of the day this autumn and winter,” said Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government’s council of experts team.

Germany’s Covid-19 rules still require that people who get Covid isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days. The rules differ from state to state on how people can end the quarantine period. But health and care workers need to have a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken five days into isolation at the earliest before they can return to work, plus a prior 48-hour symptom-free period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

The German Foundation for Patient Protection rejected a demand to shorten the quarantine period. Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chairman of the FDP, had proposed people should be able to take a test after only three days to leave isolation.

This “fuels the uncontrolled spread of corona”, said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the foundation. “That is why the isolation period for corona-positive patients must be extended to 10 days,” Brysch recommend, adding: “This may only be shortened if a PCR test is negative.”