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COVID-19 TESTS

German doctors say Covid testing is too ‘expensive and bureaucratic’

Doctors in Germany have slammed the new Covid testing regime, which involves partly charging for rapid tests.

A positive Covid test at a test centre in Munich.
A positive Covid test at a test centre in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The German Health Ministry announced on Thursday that most people would have to pay a contribution rate of €3 to get a Covid rapid test, while they would remain free of charge for certain vulnerable groups.

But chairman of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, called for an end to so-called Covid Bürgertests. 

“These nonsensical tests must be abolished,” Gassen told Bild newspaper. “They are far too expensive, the bureaucratic effort is huge and the epidemiological significance is zero.”

It is a “completely pointless exercise to test healthy people with (tests of) questionable quality for no reason,” Gassen said.

Gassen said, however, that PCR tests carried out on patients with symptoms are important to detect Covid infections.

If people in Germany have Covid symptoms, they can contact their GP who can arrange for a PCR test that is covered by health insurance. 

According to the new test regulation, which came into force on Thursday, the Bürgertests, which were previously free of charge for everyone, will now only be available for free to a limited extent.

READ ALSO: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany 

For instance, people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons can still get a free rapid test, as well as children up to five-years-old and some at-risk groups. 

Other people will be charged €3 per test, and under the new rules people have to state why they are getting the test.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he hoped this would help combat fraud as well as cut down on the cost to the taxpayer. 

However, in a letter to Lauterbach, the heads of the 17 associations of statutory health insurance doctors said they “do not want to be responsible for making payments on invoices whose accuracy they cannot even begin to check”.

They said they “will no longer be able to bill and pay for the Bürgertests in the future”.

According to research by Spiegel, more than €1 billion was taken by fraudsters for Covid tests that never took place – or test centres that did not even exist.

READ ALSO: Germany starts charging for Covid tests 

On Thursday, Health Minister Lauterbach defended the new test regulation. He told broadcaster ZDF that he would have liked to keep the tests completely free of charge, “but we could no longer afford that”.

He said the additional bureaucratic effort for the tests is “manageable”.

Lauterbach also told RTL Direkt that the tests would now be more meaningful. “If everyone can just get tested as often as they want, without there being a reason for it, then too many tests will also be negative, or if they are positive, then often false positives.

“We have limited that so that the tests are more meaningful.”

In a tweet on Friday morning, Lauterbach said the Health Ministry was “already in constructive talks” with the the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physician on the billing of tests. 

“The tests will remain, and will be invoiced correctly as of today,” he said, adding that they were “not pointless but help to prevent infected people from infecting others”.

A spokesperson for the Health Ministry told Bild: “The tests are not nonsensical, but save lives by breaking chains of infection. We assume that the KVs (associations) as corporations under public law, will continue to fulfil their mandate to bill and spot-check the test centres.”

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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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