German schools phase out mandatory Covid tests for pupils

It was one of the last major Covid measures in Germany, but now compulsory antigen tests have been dropped at schools in most parts of the country.

German schools phase out mandatory Covid tests for pupils
A pupil holds his negative test during a trial run with Corona rapid tests at the elementary school in Köllnische Heide in Berlin-Neukölln. Photo: Christoph Soeder/dpa

A DPA survey published on Sunday has revealed that the testing obligation has already been abolished or will end on Monday 25th April in six states, and it will expire by the end of the month in a further six of the 16 federal states.

Thuringia will keep testing school children until May 6th, while Berlin plans to keep testing “until further notice.” No decisions have yet been made in Hamburg and Saarland on how to handle testing as of May.

Education unions and the German Teachers’ Association have criticised the end of mandatory testing. Heinz-Peter Meidinger of the Teachers’ Association told DPA that, “we are confronted with the justified concern of families who have high-risk individuals and sick children in their own households.”

He added that the removal of all health protections would also come at the expense of graduating students who feared missing exams or having to take exams at a later date because of an infection.

According to Meidinger, many high school graduates are currently staying at home as a precaution and skipping classes “because health protection at schools has now been reduced to zero in many cases.”

The deputy chairman of the trade union for education and science (GEW), Andreas Keller, called it “negligent” to end testing so soon after mask wearing was abandoned.

“This is the last effective preventative measure that contributes to protecting the health of employees, students and their parents. The pandemic is not over,” Keller said. “Ending all protective measures is playing with fire that could fall on schools’ feet with the next wave.”

The chairman of the Association for Education and Training (VBE), Udo Beckmann, said that those who want to enable continuous school operation when the incidence of infection is still high, must carefully consider whether now is the right time to dispense with preventative measure tests and masks altogether.

At the beginning of the month, the mask requirement had been abolished at most schools, in line with the requirements of the Infection Protection Act.

While mandatory testing at schools is still legally possible throughout Germany, most of the federal states have dispensed with them. Instead, voluntary and occasion-related tests will be offered in the future, such as in the event of symptoms or if a class trip is imminent.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister under fire for Covid ‘killer variant’ warning

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Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

Germany's highest court ruled on Thursday that the mandatory Covid-19 vaccination rule for employees in health and care sectors is constitutional.

Germany's top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

From mid-March this year, health and care workers in Germany have had to prove they are vaccinated against Covid-19 or recently recovered. 

If they can’t provide this proof they face fines or even bans from working – however it is unclear how widely it has been enforced due to concerns over staff shortages. 

On Thursday the constitutional court rejected complaints against the partial vaccination mandate, saying the protection of vulnerable people outweighs any infringement of employees’ rights.

The law covers employees in hospitals as well as care homes, clinics, emergency services, doctors’ surgeries and facilities for people with disabilities. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid vaccine mandate for health staff

The court acknowledged that the law meant employees who don’t want to be vaccinated would have to deal with professional consequences or change their job – or even profession. 

However, the obligation to be vaccinated against Covid as a health or care worker is constitutionally justified and proportionate, according to the judges.

They said that’s because compulsory vaccination in this case is about protecting elderly and sick people. These groups are at increased risk of becoming infected by Covid-19 and are more likely to become seriously ill or die.

The protection of vulnerable groups is of “paramount importance”, the resolution states.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach welcomed Thursday’s ruling and thanked health care facilities who have already implemented the vaccine mandate. He said: “The state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups”.

Course of the pandemic doesn’t change things

According to the ruling, the development of the pandemic in Germany is no reason to change course. 

The court based its decision on the assessment of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and medical societies, stating that it could still be assumed that a vaccination would protect against the Omicron variant.

It’s true that the protection of vaccines decreases over time, and most courses of disease are milder with the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, the institution-based vaccination obligation remains constitutional because, according to the experts, the higher risk for old and sick people has not fundamentally changed.

A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote held in April

MPs had been allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue rather than having to vote along party lines.