1. GA-English

Corona tests soon to cost money: Bonn providers prepare for paying customers

Corona tests soon to cost money : Bonn providers prepare for paying customers

With the now decided obligation to pay for non-vaccinated people, the operators of test centers in Bonn are facing changed conditions. The makers’ reaction is relaxed. Large companies want to continue offering free tests.

The test centres are generally nearby: people can currently be tested for the Corona virus at 95 locations in Bonn, according to an official digital map of the city. While it is more or less a chore for the vast majority of the population, some in Bonn also operate it as a business model. They now face the challenge of dealing with a situation that has once again changed: As of October 11, unvaccinated people are to pay for an antigen test. Companies that expect their workforce to take negative tests in the workplace will also have to think twice when the free test offers are discontinued.

Cue the business model: both the companies in the healthcare industry and the pharmacists have embraced professional testing in recent months. In addition, there are lateral entrants who bring organizational know-how into the field. Whereas at the time of compulsory testing there were up to 300 testing centers in Bonn, now only about a third are still in operation. Ilhan Günay from Bonn believes that the decreasing number will not change in the course of the announced payment obligation. He belongs to the group of those who have entered the health business as restaurateurs. If the tests are now to become chargeable again, Günay reacts relaxed. "It was not an income model for years anyway," says the operator of the test center in the Bonn Opera House.

Further decline in income from test centers expected

"I didn't get completely hooked," he says of the facility. "The return of food service has always been at the top of the agenda." Until that happens, he plans to keep the testing center going, "the need for testing is still there, after all. Whether it's for people who can't or don't want to get vaccinated, or when tests are called in despite vaccination." Overall, Günay anticipates declining revenue from the testing center. "That's been the trend even without mandatory payment. And in the end, yes, I'll be just as happy as everyone else when the pandemic comes to an end."

Another career changer sees it similarly: "It was completely clear to me that we're not dealing with a revenue stream for decades here. And that was never the desire," says Sandro Heinemann, who would prefer to be back as a promoter and organizer of festivals sooner rather than later. "After all, with the end of free testing, the intention is to increase the willingness to vaccinate, and you don't need much imagination to do that." He said he was glad for the alternative, "also for the many employees to whom we could offer a job."

Docked on to nationwide system as franchisee

Like Günay, he did not jump blindly into the fledgling test center industry. As a franchisee, he had docked onto a nationwide concept, but in the recent past the number of centers he managed had already been reduced again from more than 50 to the current 17 - two of them still in Bonn. If a structural change is now imminent, the experienced event manager remains calm: "We started with the centers when the tests were already once chargeable." He, too, is convinced that the need for testing opportunities will continue - simply because of the unvaccinated with different backgrounds and motivations. "And when it's no longer worth it, we just won’t do it.“

Bonn pharmacies got started in the testing business with a different background. "In the beginning it was in-house, later we rented rooms," says one pharmacist who prefers not to read her name in the newspaper, "I also got hostility for my test offer." The "Corona business" was born less out of financial consideration than responsibility, she says: "I wanted to contribute to containment." The fallout from a drop in demand is manageable, but for now she wants to stick with it. "We've also been offering corporate testing programs for some time, so that could become relevant again.“

The pharmacist is alluding to the fact that larger companies in particular offer or require negative workplace testing for their workforces. According to spokeswoman Sarah Preuß, Deutsche Post DHL Group has carried out around one million tests at company expense to date - and intends to keep it that way. The company is also relying on its vaccination campaign, which has so far reached around 40,000 employees. Stadtwerke Bonn, too, is reacting in an employee-friendly manner to the plans for mandatory payment as of October 11: "Where the company arranges tests, we will continue to pay for the costs of the tests," says SWB spokeswoman Veronika John. Stadtwerke also points to a successful internal vaccination campaign. According to spokesman Husam Azrak, Telekom is also sticking to its free tests for the workforce; here, too, it has had success with its own vaccination campaign.

With regard to smaller companies, Markus Pieck, spokesman for the Bonn/Rhein-Sieg Chamber of Industry and Commerce, says: "If the costs are to be borne by the company itself, it can be assumed that not all companies will cover these costs for their employees; unless there are medical reasons." This would have to be clarified accordingly on an individual basis. "The situation would - as so often - also depend on the development of incidence values in the future.

(Original text: Alexander Barth; Translation: Mareike Graepel)