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COVID-19

How to find rapid Covid tests in Germany ahead of Christmas

Covid self-testing kits have become increasingly scarce in Germany in recent months, reflecting the high demand caused by new 3G rules and socialising. But experts say anyone who wants a test can get one - provided they put in a bit of extra effort. Here's how.

Covid self-testing kits
A German school pupil takes a test in the classroom. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

What’s going on?

Along with virology and epidemiology, the mechanics of supply chains and market economics have been yet another specialised topic us laypeople have had to learn about during the pandemic.

As the infamous toilet paper famine of 2020 taught us, shops tend to be woefully unprepared for a sudden run on their everyday products, since their orders of that product are based on the demand in ‘normal’ times and retailers often try to minimise the amount of expensive storage space they use. 

This is exactly what’s going on with rapid tests at the moment, experts believe. When the antigen testing kits first hit the market in March, there was huge demand for a product that would allow people to test themselves at home and gain peace of mind while the infection rates were high. Accordingly, tests started becoming increasingly expensive and hard to find.

This demand then dropped over summer when infections were continuously low and people could get free Bürgertests at any testing centre. This in turn drove the prices down – and availability went up. 

Now, with infection rates still at a high level and a range of new anti-Covid measures coming in, people are once again turning to the rapid tests in their droves. Companies are ordering them in bulk to help unvaccinated employees cope with the ‘3G’ (vaccinated, recovered or tested) rule in the workplace, while others may be buying them privately for socialising with friends and family over Christmas. 

READ ALSO: Celebrate Christmas with ‘closest circle’ says head of German health agency

The fallout is that tests seem to have become increasing scarce – and it’s not in the least bit uncommon to find an empty shelf and a “sold out” sign when on the hunt for them. It can be hugely frustrating for people wanting to be responsible to find that they can’t get hold of a test. But rest assured, it is still possible – it may just take a bit effort than it did in summer.  

Is this affecting the test centres?

At the moment at least, it doesn’t look like it – so your best option may be to try and get tested at one of the dedicated testing points in your state. After a brief period of paid-for tests and low demand, the test centre machinery is swinging back into life, so it shouldn’t be hard for people to find a local test centre to walk into for a free Bürgertest.

If you’re in Berlin, this incredibly helpful map of local testing centres could help you find your nearest centre. Fellow city state Hamburg also offers a similar map of locations that offer rapid tests.

Further south, aid organisation Johannitern Bayern runs 23 testing centres in Bavaria – though people are advised to book their appointments early. In addition, appointments for free Covid tests are also offered through the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK), with appointments listed on the BRK website

Sign for test centre
A sign points the way to a local test centre in Binz, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. Testing centres may currently be the quickest and easiest way to get tested. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

To the west in North Rhine-Westphalia, this interactive map allows you to search by postcode to find the nearest test centre to you, while in Hesse, a searchable list of centres across the state can be found here.

As an alternative, people often forget – or simply don’t know – that most pharmacies also offer free-of-charge tests to customers. The best way to find an offer near you is to head to the ‘Mein Apothekemanager’ search portal, enter your postcode and select ‘Covid-19 Schnelltest’ on the ‘Serviceleistungen’ drop-down bar. 

The rapid tests are for people without Covid-19 symptoms. If you have Covid symptoms, it’s always best to contact your GP, because they can offer the more reliable PCR tests via your health insurance if they believe you may have Covid. 

READ ALSO:

What about supermarkets, pharmacies and drug stores? 

For people who prefer to test in the comfort of their own home, there could some light on the horizon. According to Bavarian news site BR24, supermarkets and pharmacies have started capping the number of tests per customer in order to ensure there are enough to go around.

Rossmann, for example, will only sell 10 tests to each customer at a time. Aldi Süd, meanwhile, told BR24 that there were generally enough tests for everyone, but that peak demand could lead to some stores running out. The supermarket brand is now advising its customers to only buy the tests in “household quantities” in order to ensure availability for everyone. 

When should I try and buy tests?

The answer from people in the know is: as soon as possible.

According to Peter Sandmann of the Bavarian Pharmacists’ Association, the run on antigen tests has eased up slightly over the past few weeks, meaning it could be a good time to try to find them. 

If the tests are ever sold out in one pharmacy, other pharmacies might still have enough on hand, he told BR24. 

“My recommendation is actually to think about it early on: How many tests do I need? And start buying these tests early and not just on Christmas Eve. Because then it could get really tight under certain circumstances,” says Sandmann.

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COVID-19 STATS

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

A wave of Covid infections in Germany is causing staff shortages as many people call in sick and isolate - including in hospitals. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is also increasing slightly.

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

Covid-19 infections are sweeping through the country this summer. On Tuesday, Germany reported 147,489 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 102 deaths.

The number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units in Germany rose to 1,000 on Sunday, and 1,062 on Monday, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI). The number of ICU patients hasn’t been at this level since mid-May.

At the last highest point – in December 2021 – just under 4,900 seriously ill patients were being treated with Covid-19 in ICUs, after which the figures dropped with phases where they plateaued. 

And now the increasing staff shortages – due to people getting Covid and having to isolate – is causing growing concern among hospitals and doctors, especially as experts believe it will get worse after summer. 

“We are receiving reports from all federal states that individual wards and departments are having to be closed, due to a lack of staff,” the head of the board of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

At times, emergency admissions are also being cancelled at rescue coordination centres. “This situation worries us considerably with a view to the upcoming autumn,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Infection figures have risen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 687.7 infections per 100,000 people, but experts believe many cases are going unreported. 

“Although the occupancy rate in intensive care is only rising moderately, it is relatively high for a summer, and the beds available are becoming fewer and fewer due to the shortage of staff,” the scientific director of the ICU registry, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

He said clinics and hospitals should work to allocate capacity across the country.

“This includes regional networks for the best possible distribution of patients by level of care,” he said. “Cooperation, but also relieving the burden on staff, will be the order of the day this autumn and winter,” said Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government’s council of experts team.

Germany’s Covid-19 rules still require that people who get Covid isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days. The rules differ from state to state on how people can end the quarantine period. But health and care workers need to have a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken five days into isolation at the earliest before they can return to work, plus a prior 48-hour symptom-free period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

The German Foundation for Patient Protection rejected a demand to shorten the quarantine period. Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chairman of the FDP, had proposed people should be able to take a test after only three days to leave isolation.

This “fuels the uncontrolled spread of corona”, said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the foundation. “That is why the isolation period for corona-positive patients must be extended to 10 days,” Brysch recommend, adding: “This may only be shortened if a PCR test is negative.”

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