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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

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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