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COVID-19

Germany divided over whether to charge people for Covid rapid tests

Should antigen tests in Germany come with a fee in future? Ahead of talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, more politicians are calling for an end to free testing - but some are against it.

Germany divided over whether to charge people for Covid rapid tests
A sign for Covid testing in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

What’s happening?

Germany is debating whether to end free testing for all after everyone has been offered the Covid vaccine. 

This would have massive implications for people who choose not to get vaccinated – because everyone needs to show a negative rapid test, or proof of vaccination/recovery, to take part in some aspects of public life such as events or going to the gym. 

It could also impact anyone – including vaccinated people – who use the free tests before travelling abroad or monitoring their infection status. 

The issue has sparked a row ahead of talks on the country’s Covid strategy this autumn and winter.

READ ALSO: 

Who’s for it?

Calls are growing to get rid of the free testing system, which costs a hefty amount for taxpayers.

“I expressly think it is right that unvaccinated people should have to pay for their own tests from autumn. By then, everyone will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated free of charge,” Lower Saxony’s state leader Stephan Weil (SPD) told the Tagesspiegel.

Baden-Württemberg’s state premier Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) expressed similar views.

“In the long run, the public sector will not be able to finance the tests,” he told the Stuttgarter Zeitung. “This is also a question of fair burden sharing, because there is, after all, a free vaccination offer for everyone.”

A proposal from the German Ministry of Health sets mid-October as the date for an end to free testing. Tests would, however, continue to be free for groups who can’t get the vaccine due to medical reasons, or if there is no general vaccination recommendation, such as for children. 

READ ALSO: Germany considers tougher rules for the unvaccinated in autumn – but ‘drastic lockdown unlikely’

SPD candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz said he believed the general public would not pay for these tests “in the long run”.

“I think in autumn they (tests) will become chargeable for all adults who don’t have a health reason not to be vaccinated,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday.

But Scholz said he did not agree with proposals by the Health Ministry which could see unvaccinated people banned from some activities if the infection situation worsens. 

He said: “It is important to me that those who do not want to be vaccinated continue to have the opportunity to participate in public life via tests.”

Who’s against it?

Green Party leader Robert Habeck spoke out against an end to free testing.

“This is the wrong measure to motivate people to vaccinate,” Habeck told broadcaster ZDF. He said the strategy should be about making it as easy as possible to get a vaccination.

FDP parliamentary group deputy Stephan Thomae also rejected the plan for paid tests.

He said: “Keeping the tests free of charge as long as possible, even into 2022, is money well spent.”

Free testing should also apply to those who have recovered and those who have been vaccinated, he told DPA. Although groups with some immunity are largely protected from a severe course of Covid-19, they can carry and spread the virus, he said. 

More than 54 percent of the German population is fully vaccinated against Covid, while 62.4 percent has had at least one vaccine dose. 

Merkel will meet with state leaders on Tuesday to discuss how Germany will manage the Covid situation after summer, and how to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated. Free testing will be one of the hot topics on the table. 

Vocabulary 

Free of charge – kostenlos

Free offer – (das) Gratisangebot

Burden sharing – (die) Lastenverteilung

In the long run – auf Dauer/langfristig

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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COVID-19

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab

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