Doctors’ association accuses German Health Ministry of causing ‘test chaos’

After free rapid testing was rolled out across Germany on Monday in a delayed and restricted form, the deputy head of the National Doctors’ Association (KBV) accused the government of mishandling the project.

Doctors’ association accuses German Health Ministry of causing ‘test chaos’
A test centre in Berlin. Photo: Jörg Carstensen/DPA

The implementation of the rapid testing strategy was organized in a “completely rushed and back-to-front manner that led to chaos from the start”, said Stephan Hofmeister, deputy head of the KBV.

Health Minister Jens Spahn promised in February to provide free rapid testing for all by the start of March. But he appears not to have agreed on the plan beforehand with Angela Merkel, leading to a dispute between Spahn and the Chancellor over its implementation.

Eventually, the federal government and states agreed to start offering each resident of Germany one free test per week, with doctors, pharmacies and tests centres expected to implement the strategy.

READ ALSO: Schnell’ vs ‘Selbst’: The key differences between Germany’s new Covid-19 tests

But Hofmeister said that GPs had first received the details of the new regulation on Monday.

“No wonder that doctors feel like this has been sprung upon them,” he said, explaining that the GPs needed both time to acquire test kits and have a clear and non bureaucratic plan for conducting the testing.

“Clearly, it is always forgotten that our doctors’ practises need to deal with millions of acute and chronic illnesses every day and are already stretched enough as it is,” Hofmeister added.

The government has called the nationwide deployment of testing a cornerstone of its plan to slowly open the economy back up even as cases have slowly started to rise again in recent weeks.

Not enough tests

State governments lambasted the federal government over the weekend for not delivering enough test kits for the start of the test regime. The federal government shot back, saying states were responsible for ordering the tests kits themselves.

The confusion over the test strategy comes after a slow rollout of the vaccination campaign, leading to a loss of trust in the government on the part of German voters.

Experts say though that the vaccine shortages will be a thing of the past by April.

On Tuesday the Robert Koch Institute released the latest data on the spread of the virus and its public health impact.

A total of 4,252 new infections were reported on Tuesday morning, with an additional 255 deaths. That marks a slight rise compared to last Tuesday when 3,943 new cases were recorded.

At the same time the so-called 7-day incidence of cases per 100,000 people dropped slightly to 67.5 from 68 on Monday. Four weeks ago, on February 9th, the seven-day incidence was 72.8.

Since the start of the pandemic, the RKI has recorded 2.5 million confirmed infections although the actual number is likely to be considerably higher due to the fact that many infections are never recognized.

The total number of people in Germany who have died with or of an infection with Sars-Cov-2 is 72,189.

READ MORE: These are the lockdown rules relaxed on Monday

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Reader question: Are self-tests now free in Switzerland again?

Switzerland has again agreed to cover the costs of some Covid tests, but does this apply to pharmacy-bought take-at-home tests?

A person with a self-test for Covid-19
Covid-19 self-tests have not been made free by the government under the new regulations. Photo: Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP

As of Saturday, December 18th, individual antigen and pooled PCR tests are free in Switzerland. 

As part of the raft of new measures and rules announced on December 17th, the Swiss government again pledged to cover the costs for Covid tests, making testing now free in most instances. 

Testing was free throughout much of the summer, however the government stopped covering the costs of the tests from early October in order to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

Are self-tests now free again?

Self-tests – otherwise known as at-home tests which were available in pharmacies – are not covered by the regulation and are therefore not free.  

The regulation sought to make testing free which would be relevant for the Covid certificate, i.e. tests for people with the 2G-Plus rule. 

As self-tests are not sufficient here, they are not covered. 

While these will still be available from pharmacies – and are increasingly popular ahead of Christmas gatherings – anyone wanting to use one will need to cover the costs themselves. 

Why is some testing free again? 

Switzerland’s Covid situation has worsened in recent weeks, with higher case rates than ever and fuller ICUs than ever. 

Testing allows infected people to be identified and isolate, thereby slowing the spread of the virus. 

While those who have been vaccinated will have a less severe course of the symptoms, they can still catch and spread the virus in some cases. 

One of the major reasons the government decided to stop covering the costs of tests back in October was in order to encourage vaccination. 

As a result of the October change, people who were unvaccinated but were getting tested regularly in order to have a Covid certificate would need to pay the costs of the tests themselves. 

Under the rules in effect as at December 18th, people can no longer get a negative test for the Covid certificate, so the incentive to vaccinate is still there. 

Another major reason for the change was the cost of testing, which was estimated at four million francs per day. 

Switzerland ends free Covid testing: Everything you need to know

As yet, it is unclear as to what the daily costs of covering the tests will now be, given that it is expected fewer people will get tested as the tests no longer confer a Covid certificate.