EXPLAINED: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Germany

Two years after the Covid pandemic started in Germany, responding to a positive test result should be a simple enough thing. But a lot of people are unsure what to do after seeing those two dreaded red lines on their rapid test. Here's what you need to know.

A positive Covid test sits atop an FFP2 mask
A positive Covid test sits atop an FFP2 mask. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The Covid infection rate in Germany has been soaring to record levels recently, with more than 300,000 positive test results recorded by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on some days. Just a week or so ago, the country broke 1.5 million weekly new infections for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

Since not everyone who gets Covid reports the infection, these numbers are believed to be an understatement. In short: the odds of getting Covid in Germany have never been higher.

So, what should you do if you take a rapid test and find out the result is positive? Is it best to self-isolate straight away, or should you try and seek out other tests just to be sure? 

Here are the latest guidelines and rules to know about.

What to do after testing positive for Covid

If you’ve taken a test at home and got a positive result, your first port of call should be your GP.

Since doctors’ practices are trying to reduce contact to a minimum during the pandemic, many surgeries offer special walk-ins for people who may have Covid, though the easiest thing to do is to simply give them a call and ask for some advice. 

If you don’t have a GP or they aren’t available when you need to talk to them, you can call the Covid hotline on 116 117. You can call this hotline even if you’re not a resident in Germany, for instance if you’re a visitor, and they will be able to advise you on the next steps. 

In any case, you’ll likely be expected to self-isolate or confirm your result with a further supervised test. If you’ve been in close contact with friends and family in recent days, it’s also a good idea to let them know so that they can get tested themselves. 

Also keep in the mind that the taxpayer-funded Schnelltest stations and centres in Germany offering at least one weekly free Covid-19 test per week are also available to visitors. 

How long should I self-isolate for?

People who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 should self-isolate at home for at least seven days. If you no longer have symptoms on the seventh day, you can end your quarantine with a negative rapid test from a certified testing centre.

If you test positive, you can try again on the eighth and ninth day, and on the tenth day, you’re free to start socialising again without needing a further test. 

Obviously, if you’re unlucky enough to still have symptoms, it’s best to stay home to avoid spreading the virus to other people. This isn’t however required by law. 

Do I have to report the infection to the authorities?

Generally, no, though the rules on this do differ slightly from state to state. In Berlin, for instance, you’re required to get a follow-up antigen test at a certified testing centre following a positive result with a home testing kit. If this test is positive, you can then get a PCR. 

In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, there’s no need for a second rapid test and you will be able to arrange a PCR test right away. 

Even if you’re not obliged to register an infection, it can be incredibly useful to do so as it helps the experts get an accurate picture of the number of infections there have been.

This helps politicians and advisors work out how much of the population has a base level of immunity, which in turns helps them decide how many of the Covid measures can be scrapped without risking an overload of the health service. 


When am I entitled to a PCR test?

According to the Ministry of Health, anyone with a positive antigen test result can get a free PCR test at a state testing centre. This includes both home tests and supervised Bürgertests

However, they also say that, with the current high incidences, it’s not always necessary to get one.

A sign advertises PCR tests in Hannover

A sign advertises PCR tests in Hannover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

When making a decision, bear in mind that it can be useful to have a positive PCR in order to prove your recovery status at a later date.

Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania and Hamburg are keeping their 2G and 3G rules in place for another three weeks or so – and other states may bring them back – so it can be good to have this proof if you aren’t vaccinated. 

It can also be very useful to have proof of recovery for EU-wide travel in spring and summer. 

Is Germany going to ease its quarantine rules soon?

This is the million-euro question! As you will have noticed, Germany’s been in the process of easing up all sorts of Covid restrictions lately, from masks in shops to travel rules.

At a recent press conference, Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) also hinted that a relaxation of quarantine rules may soon be on the cards.

However, nothing has been confirmed yet, so be sure to follow the current rules for now and we’ll keep you updated.

For a full run-down of quarantine and self-isolation rules, check out the explainer below:

EXPLAINED: Germany’s rules and exceptions for Covid quarantine

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation