Germany’s free Covid-19 testing system ‘opens up potential for fraud’

The rapid testing system across the country may be leading to widespread fraud, a German media investigation found.

Germany's free Covid-19 testing system 'opens up potential for fraud'
A test centre in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Government regulations mean that operators of coronavirus testing centres don’t have to provide proof of how many antigen tests they actually carry out on people in Germany to receive money from authorities, raising concerns over fraudulent activity. 

That’s according to a joint investigation by regional broadcasters NDR and WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. 

Coronavirus testing centres, which have popped up across the country as they are often required for residents to access activities like outdoor dining, only have to inform the relevant doctors association of the number of people tested, without providing any proof.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about rapid Covid testing around Germany

That means the centre operators don’t have to provide details of the patients – or that they even bought antigen tests, the investigation found.

And test centres can go on to claim €18 per test from authorities.

Meanwhile, people who want to offer free tests usually need few prerequisites to do so, the report states.

For instance, an online course on swab collection is sufficient in many places, and then an application to open a test centre can be submitted to the health department. This is usually approved without difficulty.

According to the report, North Rhine-Westphalia alone had 1,862 test centers in mid-March, 5,776 in mid-April and 8,735 in mid-May.

Are some testing centres reporting too many tests to make money?

An overview of how much money has been spent on these tests is difficult to obtain currently.

Baden-Württemberg reported their costs at €62 million in April, and in Bavaria it was more than €120 million by mid-May. The money is distributed via the associations of statutory health insurance physicians, which in turn are reimbursed from tax revenues.

READ ALSO: Germans return to pools and beer gardens as some Covid curbs are lifted

The three media outlets reported on investigations in several North Rhine-Westphalian test centres. They compared the procedures there with an internal database of the state, in which the reports of the tests carried out are recorded. Journalists counted significantly fewer visitors in the test centres in each case than were subsequently reported to the state.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry told the three media outlets that while test centre operators do not have to submit data on the names of those tested or proof of purchase of the antigen tests to receive reimbursement, the do have to keep these records themselves until December 31st 2024.

That means a subsequent audit is also possible. The responsibility for this, he said, lies with the associations of statutory health insurance physicians.

Cases of test centers reporting more tests than were actually performed have “not come to the attention” of the Health Ministry to date. However, if there are indications of fraud, the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians – or Kassenärztlichen Vereinigungen (KV) – could examine the cases. 

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now