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COVID-19 TESTS

Germany starts charging for Covid-19 antigen tests

Most people in Germany will have to pay for a Covid antigen test from Thursday as part of a new testing strategy from the government, which is also aimed at combatting fraudulent activity.

A test centre in Leipzig.
A test centre in Leipzig. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hendrik Schmidt

Taxpayer-funded free rapid tests – known as Bürgertests – were free to everyone in test centres and pharmacies.

But from Thursday, only some people, including those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, will be allowed to get a free Schnelltest, under the new regulations from the Health Ministry. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) agreed last week to significantly restrict free rapid tests. 

They had been free of charge to the population – with a brief interruption last autumn – since spring of 2021.

But according to Lauterbach, the cost of the taxpayer-funded tests had reached around €1 billion per month.

“The truth is – unfortunately, we can’t afford that in the tight budget situation that awaits us in autumn,” Lauterbach said last week.

There are also concerns over fraud. The government has reportedly spent more than €10.5 billion on free Bürgertests during the pandemic, with suspected fraud of up to €1.5 billion.

“There is always the possibility of fraud,” Lauterbach told broadcaster ZDF on Thursday. However, test centres will now have to document why a test is being carried out, meaning it will be possible to verify via random checks, he said.

For those not entitled to free access, antigen tests will now be charged at a contribution rate of €3. 

READ ALSO: Germany to charge €3 for rapid tests 

Who will continue to receive free tests?

People who can’t be vaccinated for medial reasons, such as women in the first trimester of pregnancy, will still be entitled to free tests. 

Others to continue to receive free access to tests include family carers and people with disabilities, as well as their carers.

Furthermore, household members of people who get Covid, children up to the age of five, and residents and visitors of nursing homes, institutions for people with disabilities and clinics do not have to pay for a rapid test.

Visitors and people receiving treatment or residents in inpatient or outpatient hospital facilities can also get free tests. 

People who need proof that they are negative after a Covid-19 infection, so they can go back to work for example, can still get tested for free.

Employees of nursing homes and hospitals should continue to take tests in their facilities, says the Health Ministry.

“Family carers and people with disabilities and their carers will also continue to be able to be tested free of charge,” said Lauterbach. “In doing so, we are expanding the circle of those eligible, but retaining the criterion for doing so: we protect at-risk groups through free Bürgertests.”

Who has to pay €3?

The €3 tests are aimed at people who are attending a possible risk event such as concerts or theatre visits. This is to help prevent so-called superspreader cases, where lots of people can get the virus at once.

A €3 test is also to be charged to people who get a red warning on the Corona-Warn app.

Anyone who wants a test now has to state the purpose of the test. 

People who have Covid symptoms should contact their doctor or health care provider who can arrange for a test that is covered by the patient’s health insurance. 

The government also plans to reduce the amount that is given to the test centres per antigen test – from the current €11.50 to €9.50.

A total of €6.50 from the federal government will be added to the €3 to reimburse centres.

Among the population, the new regulations have been met with a divided response. Around 47 percent of Germans find the price of €3 reasonable, while 43 percent do not, according to a survey by the opinion research institute YouGov. Ten percent did not give an answer.

It comes as Covid infections have risen dramatically. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said the nationwide 7-day incidence on Thursday was 668.6 infections per 100,000 people.

However, experts assume that the number of infections are vastly underreported.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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