Germany ends free rapid Covid-19 tests for all

People in Germany can no longer take Covid antigen tests free of charge under new rules aimed at encouraging more vaccinations.

A sign shows the costs of Covid-19 rapid tests at a test centre in Berlin
A sign shows the costs of Covid-19 rapid tests at a test centre in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

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. 

READ MORE: Who will still be able to get a free Covid test starting Monday?

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. 

READ ALSO: What does Germany’s high vaccination rate mean for winter?

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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.