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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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now