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Schnelltests: Did rapid tests help bring Germany’s Covid infection rate under control?

Schnelltests: Did rapid tests help bring Germany's Covid infection rate under control?
A rapid test centre in Stuttgart in late May. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt
Germany has built up a network of rapid test stations around the country in a bid to control the spread of Covid. But just how effective has this measure been? Here's what a new study found.

Rapid antigen tests helped bring Germany’s Covid infections down by 40 percent in May 2021 alone, a new study has found.

According to the German study by researchers at institutes including the Universities of Bonn and Cologne, offering rapid tests to residents across Germany has had a huge impact on the second and third waves that swept through the country. 

Now experts are calling for widespread rapid testing to remain in place until there is full vaccination coverage. 

The researchers staged a simulation to see how rapid tests – Schnelltests as they are known in German – contributed to reducing the number of Covid infections.

They put together a quantitative model looking at several measures used by countries to control the spread, such as testing, curfews and even examined factors like the weather. 

READ ALSO: How did Germany get Covid cases down – and will the trend continue?

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The model was applied to the second and third wave of the pandemic in Germany, covering the period of mid-September 2020 to the end of May 2021.

New infections in Germany fell by almost 80 percent during the month of May 2021. Rapid testing was firmly in place by the end of this month after it was phased into everyday life. 

The Our World in Data chart below shows the steep drop in May. 

The researchers’ model found that rapid tests had the largest effect on reducing infection numbers, alongside weather factors.

Vaccinations, meanwhile, played a minor role in helping to bring Covid numbers down in spring.

Although the vaccination rate rose from five to 40 percent during Germany’s third pandemic wave in spring, jabs were only responsible for a 16 percent decline in infection numbers during the period, according to the study.

Researchers found that rapid tests reduced contact between infected people and others because when they were positive people generally went on to get a PCR test and self-isolated. 

They also highlighted the immediate results of rapid testing. People in Germany can usually get their Schnelltest results in just 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, they are offered for free by employers, in schools as well as in test stations in towns and cities.

READ ALSO: How can tourists and visitors in Germany get a Covid-19 test?

Covid tests are still needed in lots of regions in Germany for doing activities like going to the gym or for events if people are not vaccinated. 

What exactly did the researchers say?

The authors of the study – Janos Gablera, Tobias Raabe, Klara Röhrl and Hans-Martin von Gaudecker said that the development of effective vaccines “holds the promise of containment in the medium term” in the pandemic. 

IN PICTURES: How Germany reopened after six months of Covid shutdown

But due to most countries being months or even years away from reaching vaccination-induced herd immunity, “there has to be an effective mix of strategies for containing the virus”, said the authors of the study. 

The authors of the study called for widespread testing to remain in place to help control any future spreading. 

“Frequent large-scale rapid testing should remain part of strategies to contain Covid-19; it can substitute for many non-pharmaceutical interventions that come at a much larger cost to individuals, society, and the economy,” they said. 

What other factors came into play?

As we mentioned above, the so-called seasonality of the virus was found to have played a similarly important role in the infection figures, said the researchers. This refers to the external conditions such as temperature and humidity and, consequently, the places where people meet – predominantly outdoors or indoors.

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

The study, which was published as a discussion paper, is based on a model simulation of the pandemic.

The focus was on looking at physical contacts such as contacts in the home, at work, at school, or meetings with friends or family.

For the simulation, researchers used data from the microcensus and various studies on social contacts that had already been collected before the pandemic.

Based on medical evaluations, they then simulated the likelihood of becoming infected during a contact and tested how measures such as curfews, contact restrictions, vaccination, and PCR and rapid testing affected infection rates. 


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