Queues for free PCR tests in Covid hotspots – like the capital Berlin – have become commonplace in recent weeks.
As the number of infections continues to increase in Germany amid the Omicron wave, laboratories are also struggling to process the number of tests.
Now the federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, and his counterparts across the states, are considering changing the testing strategy.
Under proposals, only people with Covid-19 symptoms and vulnerable groups would generally be allowed to take a PCR test. There would likely be exceptions for medical staff.
Currently, people are encouraged to take a PCR test if they test positive for Covid with an antigen test or receive a red warning on their Covid warning app which means they’ve come into contact with an infected person.
Ahead of a meeting with health ministers on Monday, a draft proposal said that PCR tests are to be limited in future to “symptomatic persons and, if necessary, vulnerable groups”.
The proposal was submitted by Berlin, where demand for PCR tests is outstripping supply.
According to the motion, a PCR test could be waived as confirmation for people with a symptom-free Covid infection after a positive rapid test. Even if the Corona warning app is red, only a rapid test may be needed in future.
A test to end quarantine or isolation would be carried out “exclusively” with a “high-quality and, if necessary, laboratory-based antigen test” under the plans.
PCR tests would be reserved for people with symptoms, vulnerable groups and employees in critical infrastructure such as in nursing homes and hospitals.
No decision on the testing strategy was made on Monday by health ministers, and it will be discussed again this week.
It comes after federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Friday that free PCR testing for employees from the medical sector would be prioritised with immediate effect.
He said this was to ensure that employees can get a PCR test “when capacities are exhausted or overloaded”.
Germany on Tuesday saw 74,405 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, and 193 deaths. The 7-day incidence rose to 553.2 infections per 100,000 people.
What else did health ministers talk about?
In the meeting on Monday, health ministers agreed that they want to see the law extended to allow doctors to grant sick leave for respiratory tract infections, like the common cold or Covid-19, by telephone.
Usually people in Germany have to visit a doctor’s office in person to get a sick note that they can then submit to their employers if they need time off due to illness.
The special regulation for issuing incapacity to work certificates via a telephone consultation was first introduced at the start of the pandemic and has been extended regularly.
Doctors need this support “so that they are not overrun by patients”, said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne after the consultations. The SPD politician is currently chairwoman of the so-called Conference of Health Ministers.