Germany's health minister has suggested mandatory quarantine for travelers returning from high-risk areas, rather than testing for COVID-19 upon arrival. Authorities say the testing has pushed capacity to the limit.
People returning to Germany could soon face a minimum five-day quarantine if arriving from areas abroad which the government deems high-risk, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday.
At present, people who come to the country from high-risk areas must either present evidence of a negative COVID-19 test, or take a free test upon arrival. However, that policy could be replaced by a mandatory quarantine after the summer holiday period ends, Spahn said after a meeting with state health ministers.
According to the new policy proposal, the mandatory quarantine would last at least five days, after which people could seek a test and stop isolating if that were negative.
A firm decision on the matter is not expected to be made before Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a video conference with Germany's state premiers on Thursday.
Germany's testing capacity has apparently been pushed to its limit since the government introduced free testing to travelers returning from high-risk areas in July. On August 8, testing became mandatory for those returning from high-risk areas.
"It's clear that if we operate at full throttle like this for weeks, we will have personnel and supply problems," said a spokesperson for the Health Ministry.
The head of the conference of state health ministers, Berlin's Dilek Kalayci, said the mandatory testing of arrivals had exhausted her state's testing capacity.
Laboratories in Germany are current carrying out around 875,000 tests per week, according to the ministry spokesperson.
Monday's news comes as Germany has reported a spike in new COVID-19 cases. Over the weekend, the country saw over 2,000 new infections in a 24-hour period — its highest figure since late April — mostly due to returning travelers.
Meanwhile, the Bavarian city of Rosenheim on Monday reported more than 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people for seven days in a row, the limit that the German government has stipulated as necessitating regional lockdown measures. The news prompted city officials to tighten restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The uptick in new cases prompted Bavarian state premier Marks Söder to call for a more unified approach to curbing the spread of the virus. He argued that the required tests for travelers returning from high-risk areas came too late, and that those high-risk areas should have been designated as such earlier.
"If there is no binding framework, then there is a high likelihood that we can no longer prevent negative developments with the coronavirus," Söder said.