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Who can still get free Covid tests in Germany?

Germany is bringing in sweeping changes to its Covid testing strategy from Monday October 11th. Here's what you should know.

A woman walks past a Covid test station in Munich in August.
A woman walks past a Covid test station in Munich in August. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

What’s changing from Monday?

Back in August, Chancellor Angela Merkel and state health ministers announced that Schnelltests – or rapid antigen Covid-19 tests (known as the Bürgertest/citizen test) would cost a fee from Monday, October 11th. Since March this year rapid tests have been taxpayer funded and therefore free to anyone who wants them – including tourists and visitors to Germany.

The change is stipulated in a decree put together by the Health Ministry.

Why are there no more free rapid tests?

The move is aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated against Covid. 

The government justified this by saying that most people in Germany have now had the chance to get vaccinated against Covid free of charge. It is therefore no longer necessary for taxpayers to cover the cost of testing, they say.

Why is this important?

Germany has a version of the Covid health pass system in place called the ‘3G’ rules. It means that people can only access certain indoor public places like restaurants, gyms and cinemas with a vaccination certificate (geimpft), proof of recovery form Covid (genesen) within the last six months or a negative Covid test (getestet).

So this change in testing rules means that unvaccinated people will have to pay from their own pocket to take part in public life. Usually a rapid antigen test has to be no older than 24 hours and a PCR test no older than 48 hours for entry into some public places.

READ ALSO: Motivation to get vaccinated or coercion? Mixed views on Germany’s plan to charge for Covid tests

Several states have gone further, giving businesses the option of having ‘2G’ rules – entry only to the vaccinated and recovered. 

Meanwhile, vaccinated people may still use Schnelltests to monitor their infection status and before travelling abroad. So the testing changes affect most of the population.

Who will continue to get a rapid test for free?

Some groups of people, such as children under 12 for whom there is no approved Covid vaccine, will still be entitled to free tests. People who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will also continue to get the cost of rapid tests covered by the government. 

Here’s who the government says won’t have to pay for rapid tests from Monday:

  • Children under 12, or those who have turned 12 in the last three months before testing
  • People who can’t be vaccinated against Covid due to medical reasons. According to the government this also applies to pregnant women in the first trimester, as the Standing Commission on Vaccination has not yet issued a general vaccination recommendation for this period
  • The free test option also exists if a vaccination has not been possible in the last three months before the test due to a medical reason
  • People who have been in quarantine due to Covid and need a test to end the quarantine can still get it for free
  • Until December 31st 2021 – children aged 13 to 17 can still get free tests. The same applies to pregnant women. There is a general vaccination recommendation for these groups to get vaccinated but it came later than other groups of the population
  • Students from abroad who have been jabbed with a vaccine not recognised in Germany can also be tested free of charge by rapid test until December 31st 2021
  • Participants taking part in a Covid-19 efficacy study can still get free rapid tests

READ ALSO: Germany’s 16 states bring in uniform Covid-19 ‘3G’ rules

What do I have to show for a rapid test if I am one of the exceptions?

If you are part of these groups you have to show your identity card or passport. 

If the exception is not linked to age, you also need proof such as a letter from a GP.  According to the ministry, a diagnosis does not have to be given. However, the name, address and date of birth as well as information on the issuer of the certificate must be stated. 

A sign shows the way to a Covid-19 testing station in Hamburg.
A sign shows the way to a Covid-19 testing station in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Reinhardt

What will a Covid test cost from October 11th?

The costs will be set by the private providers so will vary across centres in regions. 

So far, the federal government has been reimbursing the testing stations €11.50 per rapid test and €43.56 per PCR test. That means tests are likely to cost anywhere between €12 and €50 for a rapid test and between €44 and €100 for a PCR test. 

According to the Bavarian GP Association, the prices for rapid tests there will be around €35 in future. 

It is likely that test centres will judge the demand and adjust prices in the coming weeks. It’s also not clear how many will remain open.

According to the German pharmacy association, there are now about 4,400 testing stations. 

What about Covid tests at work?

Employers still have to offer a Covid-19 at least twice a week to all employees who do not work at home. The costs must be covered by the companies.

What if the rapid test is positive?

If you get a positive rapid test at any time, you have to take a PCR test – and the PCR test will be free. In test centres, it is usually possible to have the sample for a PCR test taken immediately after a positive rapid test.

Those who have tested themselves at home or at work and received a positive result should make an appointment with their doctor for a PCR test. It’s also possible to call the medical on-call service on 116 117. In the meantime, people are advised to avoid contact with others as much as possible so as not to infect anyone else.

Are PCR tests still free for people with Covid symptoms or for contact persons?

Yes. If you think you have Covid, or you are alerted as a contact person by a Covid warning app, you should contact your doctor or call 116 117. A medical expert will then determine whether you should get a Covid-19 PCR or rapid test. That test will be covered by your health insurance, as has been the case previously, so you won’t have to pay. 

In emergencies – like if you or someone you know is in severe respiratory distress – call 112. 

Member comments

  1. I may have missed something, but if you are fully vaccinated, and you believe you have been infected, do you have to pay to check (For instance the Covpass pings you)

    1. Hi Richard, I clarified that in the story. You don’t have to pay for a test if you suspect you have Covid and contact the public health department or a doctor to arrange a test.

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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.