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Pandemic: Germany’s Health Ministry calls for the end of free Covid testing

Pandemic : Germany’s Health Ministry calls for the end of free Covid testing

Should people have to pay for rapid antigen tests in the future? Some hope that this would put pressure on those who refuse to get vaccinated, but others urge caution. On Tuesday, the federal and state governments will discuss the issue - and the overall strategy for the fall.

Ahead of the Conference of State Premiers with Chancellor Angela Merkel this Tuesday, there are strong voices in favor of ending free Covid rapid antigen testing for everyone.

The state premiers of Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg, Stephan Weil (SPD) and Winfried Kretschmann (Greens), both spoke out in favor. SPD candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz also pleaded for it again in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

A proposal of the Federal Ministry of Health envisages that this could begin in mid-October. But it would only apply to people for whom there is a vaccination recommendation from the Standing Commission on Vaccination - it would not apply to those who cannot be vaccinated, for example those for whom there is no vaccination recommendation, i.e. children.

"I emphatically think it's right that unvaccinated people will have to pay for their own tests starting in the fall. Until then, everyone will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated free of charge," Weil told Berlin's "Tagesspiegel" newspaper. Kretschmann told the "Stuttgarter Zeitung/Stuttgarter Nachrichten": "In the long run, the public sector will not be able to finance the tests. This is also a question of fair burden sharing, because there is, after all, a free vaccination offer for all."

In contrast, FDP parliamentary group vice chairman Stephan Thomae advised, "Keeping the tests free of charge as long as possible, even into 2022, is money well spent." This also applies to those who have recovered and those who have been vaccinated, he told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Although they are largely protected from the disease, they can still carry the virus.

In view of the fact that the number of infections is rising again, the heads of the state governments and Merkel want to discuss on Tuesday how the approaching fourth wave can be kept at bay. "Germany must not go into the fall vulnerable and unprotected," said CSU Secretary General Markus Blume in the "Bild" Internet format "The Right Questions." But the question of testing costs is only one of the issues Merkel and the state premiers are likely to address. Other questions are:

How can the vaccination campaign be boosted?

So far, about 55 percent of the population has received the vaccinations needed for full protection - too few to prevent another major wave. But the pace of vaccination has slowed sharply. Most recently, only about half a million people received a first vaccine within a week - at its peak in May, more than a million were vaccinated in a single day.

Stephan Thomae, vice chairman of the FDP parliamentary group, called for a "calmly executed information campaign" to allay fears. This would be better than "reinforcing the reservations (of those who have not received a vaccine) with threats of direct or indirect compulsory vaccination," he told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Who should be subject to restrictions?

Weil said that despite a sluggish pace of vaccinations, many people are now vaccinated. "With this being the case, massive restrictions, such as we still had in the spring, are no longer appropriate." For Kretschmann, the following applies in principle: "We will lift restrictions on vaccinated and recovered people to a large extent." For non-vaccinated people, access to events or facilities "will continue to be subject to conditions" because of the higher risk of infection. However, measures such as the mandatory wearing of masks on buses and trains will "certainly be retained for the time being”.

However, Scholz rejected considerations of the health department of Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) to generally no longer admit unvaccinated people to events - not even with a negative rapid test. "It is important to me that those who do not want to be vaccinated continue to have the opportunity to participate in public life via tests," he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The question is: With what kind of tests? Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) argued that only unvaccinated people with negative PCR tests should be put on an equal footing with vaccinated and recovered people. "Rapid antigen tests are not reliable enough," the former physician told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung."

Should there still be restrictions at all?

The chairman of the Bundestag's health committee, Erwin Rüddel (CDU), questions that. "The message must come that there will be no more automatic lockdowns - not even for the unvaccinated," he told the Bild newspaper, referring to the federal/state consultations. "The question is whether our society can't also provide appropriate care for those who deliberately don't get vaccinated and then fall seriously ill, instead of scaring and damaging the entire country and the economy with the sword of Damocles of the lockdown."

And if it does, what should the criterion be?

There seems to be widespread agreement on this in the political arena: The seven-day incidence rate - i.e., new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week - should no longer be the sole criterion. Parameters such as the vaccination rate and hospital capacity are to be added.

At first glance, the situation appears relaxed at present: The incidence rate is 21. However, it has been rising steadily again for about a month, and earlier and quicker than last summer around the same time, when the third wave followed. At that time, there were no vaccinations - but also no delta variant, which, unlike earlier variants, does not spread only after prolonged contact, but already during encounters "in passing," as the vice president of the association of health service physicians, Elke Bruns-Philipps, had recently said.

Orig. text: dpa

Translation: ck