The Schnelltests – rapid tests – which have been taxpayer-funded since March this year – now have to be paid for by most people out of their own pocket.
The move will particularly impact unvaccinated people who need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to access many indoor public facilities like going to events, the cinema, the gym or eating indoors at a restaurant.
The tests will remain free for some groups of the population, including children under the age of 12 and people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.
Young people aged 12 to 17 and pregnant women will also be able to get a free test up until December 31st.
PCR tests ordered by doctors or the public health department are not affected by the changes. So those with Covid symptoms will continue to receive PCR tests free of charge.
The cost of tests at centres across the country will be set by private providers. Tests are likely to cost anywhere between €12 and €50 for a rapid test and between €44 and €100 for a PCR test.
The decision has split politicians and experts.
Reinhard Sager, President of the German District Association said it was the “right step” in view of the high vaccination rate among adults.
“We do not assume that the end of free tests will lead to serious social conflicts,” Chief Executive of the Association of Towns and Municipalities Gerd Landsberg told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.
“Making tests cost money will lead to many more people being vaccinated because they will want to avoid regular testing,” Social Democrats’ health expert Karl Lauterbach said.
But the Left Party (Die Linke) slammed the end of free tests. “This makes it more difficult to trace chains of infection, and the development of the incidence of infection – and this helps no one,” said party leader Janine Wissler. “In the end, this is more expensive than the tests.”
At the weekend, Health Minister Jens Spahn, of the centre-right CDU, defended the move to charge for tests, saying it was about giving a “fair deal to the taxpayer”.
“Everyone for whom vaccines are recommended has now had the chance to get vaccinated,” he said.
Spahn also pointed out that tests in nursing homes, hospitals, schools or at work will still be free of charge.
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the 16 German state premiers in August agreed to end free rapid tests for all in a bid to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Official figures show 65.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against Covid. But the Robert Koch Institute believes the real number of vaccinations carried out in Germany is up to five percentage points higher than the official reporting data shows.