Germany considers restricting PCR tests for Covid over high demand

With demand for Covid tests soaring in Germany in the Omicron wave, health ministers are considering limiting the availability of PCR tests.

People queue for a PCR test in Berlin on January 10th.
People queue for a PCR test in Berlin on January 10th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Queues for free PCR tests in Covid hotspots – like the capital Berlin – have become commonplace in recent weeks. 

As the number of infections continues to increase in Germany amid the Omicron wave, laboratories are also struggling to process the number of tests. 

Now the federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, and his counterparts across the states, are considering changing the testing strategy.

Under proposals, only people with Covid-19 symptoms and vulnerable groups would generally be allowed to take a PCR test. There would likely be exceptions for medical staff. 

Currently, people are encouraged to take a PCR test if they test positive for Covid with an antigen test or receive a red warning on their Covid warning app which means they’ve come into contact with an infected person.

READ ALSO: Germany’s weekly Covid incidence rate rises above 500

Ahead of a meeting with health ministers on Monday, a draft proposal said that PCR tests are to be limited in future to “symptomatic persons and, if necessary, vulnerable groups”.

The proposal was submitted by Berlin, where demand for PCR tests is outstripping supply. 

According to the motion, a PCR test could be waived as confirmation for people with a symptom-free Covid infection after a positive rapid test. Even if the Corona warning app is red, only a rapid test may be needed in future. 

A test to end quarantine or isolation would be carried out “exclusively” with a “high-quality and, if necessary, laboratory-based antigen test” under the plans. 

PCR tests would be reserved for people with symptoms, vulnerable groups and employees in critical infrastructure such as in nursing homes and hospitals.

No decision on the testing strategy was made on Monday by health ministers, and it will be discussed again this week. 

It comes after federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Friday that free PCR testing for employees from the medical sector would be prioritised with immediate effect.

He said this was to ensure that employees can get a PCR test “when capacities are exhausted or overloaded”.

Germany on Tuesday saw 74,405 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, and 193 deaths. The 7-day incidence rose to 553.2 infections per 100,000 people. 

What else did health ministers talk about?

In the meeting on Monday, health ministers agreed that they want to see the law extended to allow doctors to grant sick leave for respiratory tract infections, like the common cold or Covid-19, by telephone. 

Usually people in Germany have to visit a doctor’s office in person to get a sick note that they can then submit to their employers if they need time off due to illness. 

The special regulation for issuing incapacity to work certificates via a telephone consultation was first introduced at the start of the pandemic and has been extended regularly.  

Doctors need this support “so that they are not overrun by patients”, said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne after the consultations. The SPD politician is currently chairwoman of the so-called Conference of Health Ministers.

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you get sick in Germany

Member comments

  1. Why don’t we only test the sick? Surely that would protect supply.
    When I was growing up, asymptomatic was called not sick.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”