Will Germany bring back free rapid tests amid Covid surge?

A sign shows Covid-19 tests in Munich.
A sign shows Covid-19 tests in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth
Germany ended free Covid testing in October to encourage more people to get vaccinated. But as infections rise, many people now say the system should be brought back.

As Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) confirmed a new record high for Germany’s Covid-19 infection rate Monday, politicians around the country  called for the country to bring back free rapid testing.

“We need to take all possible measures,” Bundestag Green co-leader Katrin Göring-Eckhardt told ARD talk show host Anne Will on Sunday.

She confirmed that the coalition parties in talks to take over from outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government (the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats) are discussing new coronavirus response measures, and that is expected to include a return to widely available free testing.

Although the so-called Ampel (traffic light) coalition – named after the party colours of red, green and yellow – haven’t finished negotiations yet, the new Bundestag – where these parties have a majority – is expected to debate the new measures on Thursday this week, before finalising them by November 18th.

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READ ALSO: Who can still get free Covid tests in Germany?

Abolishing free tests ‘was a mistake’

When Germany reopened its restaurants, gyms, and bars earlier this year, it allowed people to enter based on the ‘3G’ system of geimpft, genesen, or getestet (vaccinated, recovered from Covid, or tested).

Residents who weren’t yet fully vaccinated could walk into any number of plentiful testing centres, get a free antigen test, and receive their result via e-mail in 20 minutes. By the time the government ended free testing on October 11th, it had cost the public purse around €4 billion.

At the time though, politicians like SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach argued that ending free testing wasn’t just about the money.

“Making tests cost money will lead to many more people being vaccinated because they will want to avoid regular testing,” Lauterbach said at the time.

One month on, many states have put ‘2G’ rules on the books, which restrict access to places like bars and clubs to the vaccinated and recovered only.

Even so, the country’s vaccination rate has barely budged, remaining stubbornly at around 67 percent – behind many European countries. Countries like Portugal and Spain have even broken the 80 percent mark.

The rise of infections now and lack of movement in the vaccination rate has politicians pushing for free tests to return. 

“Abolishing free Corona tests was a mistake that we need to correct,” said CDU health expert Michael Hennrich.

Brandenburg health minister, Ursula Nonnenmacher of the Greens, also told the German Press Agency (DPA) that getting rid of free testing was a mistake. “We need significantly more tests to slow the coronavirus spread, especially in places like care homes. The obligation to be tested must also be
expanded,” she said.

“Free citizen tests can be an important tool,” said FDP health spokeswoman Christine Aschenberg- Dugnus, whose party is part of the Ampel coalition expected to form Germany’s next government, alongside the SPD and the Greens. “Free tests would make sense for a certain period of
time.”

It’s not yet clear how long free tests would last if they were brought back in. Schleswig-Holstein Health Minister Heiner Garg, also from the FDP, suggested over the weekend that free tests should be “an additional means, nationwide, to better get us through autumn and winter”.

As the Ampel parties negotiate, several hard-hit states are already tightening their rules, barring the unvaccinated entirely from museums or restaurants and requiring FFP2-grade masks on public transport.

READ ALSO: German states order tougher Covid rules to fight fourth wave

Berlin is currently looking at expanding the scope of its current 2G rule to include places like cultural spaces and gyms. Some politicians, like Bavarian Premier Markus Söder, now argue that a return to free testing should also include a tough, nationwide, 2G rule, and for employers to require a negative test for people coming into work. 


Member comments

  1. Ill continue to say this anywhere the idea of rapid tests are being floated, I have yet to see any proof this had any positive result beyond speculative correlation. No other country gave so many free rapid tests, and ALL had reductions in infections during the same period.
    The problem is 2G is hardly actually enforced, not but once at the movie theater did they check my ID and make sure that the proof I showed them was actually me. Latvia, Spain, Denmark all required ID with digital immunization pass to make sure the names matched. Lets start with enforcement before we bring back a program that just wastes money.

    1. I certainly agree with you regarding the 2G not being enforced. We don’t go out all that much, but when we do, folks don’t ask to see our vaccination certificates. I show them anyway and they just smile.

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