„To be on the safe side“ Details on mandatory corona testing for those returning to Germany
Berlin · The summer travel season brings new risks of infection. For tourists who have been to areas with a high number of corona cases, testing is now mandatory. The lifting of the travel warning for some Turkish holiday regions has others wanting to be included as well.
As of Saturday, August 8, those returning from corona high-risk areas must be tested for the virus on their return to Germany - unless they have a recent negative test result in hand.
Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said that the free compulsory tests ensured "being on the safe side" in light of people returning home from areas with many infected persons. For anyone who refuses to get a test, they are subject to a fine. Since last Saturday, all those entering the country can voluntarily undergo free testing.
Spahn acknowledged that the test may infringe on personal freedom but said that the pandemic was not just about one person. Until now, anyone coming from high-risk areas had to undergo a 14-day domestic quarantine and report to public health authorities. This changes with the compulsory testing of those returning from 130 countries. Here are the new regulations at a glance:
THE TESTS: For returnees from high-risk areas there are two options: The first is that they can be tested in the country where they were on holiday up to 48 hours before departure. In that case, they must pay for the test themselves. Or they can be tested in Germany up to three days after their return. Then it is free of charge.
As of August 8, those who have returned to Germany only need to stay in domestic quarantine until the test result is available - presuming it is negative. According to the Ministry of Health, this usually takes 24 to 48 hours.
Tests will be possible at airports, train stations and other travel hubs, local health authorities and doctors’ offices. It should also be possible to inquire about test centers by calling the medical service telephone number 116 117. Spahn asked for understanding, saying that during the initial start-up phase there might be some hiccups or longer waiting times.
The mandatory testing does not apply if one was in transit through a high-risk area.
THE COSTS: All tests for holiday returnees in Germany are initially paid for by the public health insurance companies, but the federal government then covers the costs via a multi-billion-euro subsidy that has already been approved. For the time being, 50.50 euros per test are set aside for laboratory services, plus 15 euros for the doctors who perform the tests. Those entering Germany who do not allow themselves to be tested despite being asked to do so, face fines of up to 25,000 euros - but the actual amount is determined at the discretion of the authorities, according to Spahn. Random checks are also to be carried out.
The costs for the tests vary greatly in the tourist destination countries. In Turkey, for example, testing costs 15 to 30 euros.
On Tuesday, Spahn again defended financing the tests at taxpayer's expense. Tests should not become a social issue, especially since many people have worked hard to save money for their trips. Debates that suggest holiday travelers should pay for the tests themselves questioned the solidarity-based system. "This is about as populist as the following approach: If you can afford a skiing holiday, you can afford a broken leg."
The FDP, on the other hand, insisted that such tests should be paid for by the people themselves. FDP deputy faction leader Michael Theurer said: "What is social about the fact that average earners who have stayed at home to protect themselves and the general public should pay for tests for long-distance travelers?”
According to the German television ARD "Deutschlandtrend", most people in Germany are also critical of the state's coverage of costs: 57 percent of respondents answered that they think it would be better if people traveling to high-risk areas covered the test costs themselves. On the flip side, 39 percent think it is right for the state to pay for the tests.
HIGH-RISK AREAS: A list published by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows which countries are considered to be high-risk areas. Currently, this list includes about 130 of the nearly 200 countries worldwide, from Egypt to Russia and the USA. In terms of the EU, Luxembourg, the Belgian province of Antwerp and the Spanish regions of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre are currently on the list. The central criterion is in which states or regions there have been more than 50 newly infected persons per 100,000 inhabitants in the last seven days.
Only a few countries outside the EU and the border control-free Schengen area are not counted among the high-risk areas. These include, for example, the countries Tunisia and Thailand.
THE TRAVEL WARNINGS: The classification as a high-risk area by the RKI is independent of the travel warnings issued by the German Federal Foreign Office (AA). A travel warning is not a travel ban, but is intended to have the greatest possible deterrent effect. At the same time, it offers German tourists the opportunity to cancel trips free of charge.
In March the German Federal Foreign Office issued its first worldwide travel warning due to the corona pandemic, which was lifted in June for more than 30 European countries. As of Tuesday, there is no longer a travel warning for four holiday regions outside of Europe in the Asian part of Turkey (Antalya, Izmir, Aydin and Mugla).
This makes other countries hopeful that they too will be able to receive German tourists: Egypt and Tunisia are insisting that the travel warning also be lifted for their holiday destination areas. The Egyptian ambassador in Berlin, Khaled Galal Abdelhamid, emphasized the falling corona infection rates and extensive safety precautions for tourists in his country. "We are not asking for favors. What we are saying is: look at the situation and make a rational and reasonable decision," he told the German Press Agency. Egypt is the second most popular holiday destination for Germans outside the EU. Last year, 1.8 million Germans traveled to the North African country, with its beaches on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Twelve percent of the economy there derives from tourism.
On Thursday, the Chief Executive of the Tunisian Embassy, Chiheb Chaouch, also made a statement, referring to his country's "excellent record" in the fight against the pandemic. "We therefore hope that the Federal Foreign Office will also include Tunisia in a list of countries outside the European Union and the Schengen area that are a safe destination for German travelers," he said in response to a dpa inquiry. "We hope that German tourists will visit Tunisia."
Orig. text: Sascha Meyer, Michael Fischer, dpa