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FRAUD

Germany probes Covid-19 testing centres for fraud

Prosecutors in several German regions have launched probes of companies offering free Covid-19 tests after news reports said that some were padding their numbers to claim more money from the government.

Germany probes Covid-19 testing centres for fraud
People queue in front of a Covid-19 rapid antigen test centre at Castle Square in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on May 26th, 2021, amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. (Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

Prosecutors raided a company in the northwestern city of Bochum on Friday, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, while farther north in
Lübeck, prosecutors have opened a fraud probe, the WirtschaftsWoche weekly said.

In Cologne, authorities carried out a surprise control of a testing centre, and the city of Munster has revoked the licence of a company that operates around 50 testing centres.

In an effort to boost Covid-19 testing, the German government made testing free several weeks ago, reimbursing companies up to 18 euros ($22) for each test conducted.

But according to a joint investigation by several media companies, the testing centres do not have to furnish any documents to prove how many people they’ve tested when filing for government compensation and several have been inflating the figures.

“They just have to send the number of tests (carried out), without any proof, and they are wired the money soon after,” according to a joint investigation by NDR and WDR public television and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

READ ALSO: Germany’s free Covid-19 testing system ‘opens up potential for fraud’
READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about rapid Covid testing around Germany

As part of the effort, journalists counted the number of people who had come into the testing centres and then compared these numbers to what the establishments submitted to the government to get reimbursed.

According to the investigation, one centre declared 422 tests, when only around 100 people had come in. Another filed for reimbursement of 1,743 tests done in a single day, when only 550 people had come in.

The number of places offering free Covid-19 tests have mushroomed since the government introduced the free scheme — in the North Rhine-Westphalia region there are currently nearly 8,000 and the capital Berlin has at least 1,200.

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COVID-19

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.

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