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Germany mulls end to mandatory COVID-19 tests

August 24, 2020

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.

A man stands before tents at a roadside COVID-19 test station in Bavaria
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Hoppe

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.

Read more: As Germany expands COVID-19 travel tests, politicians debate cost

A health worker administers COVID-19 tests to two travelers inside a tent at Cologne-Bonn Airport
On August 8, Germany made testing mandatory for travelers arriving from areas deemed high-riskImage: picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress

Testing resources stretched thin

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.

Despite the burden it has put on testing centers, an overwhelming number of Germans appear to favor the mandatory testing policy. According to the most recent Deutschlandtrend survey conducted for the public broadcaster ARD, 93% of the the population thought the measure was a reasonable demand to impose.

Read more: Germany: Coronavirus widens the social divide

Enforcing corona rules in Berlin

Call for unified approach as cases rise

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.

The Bavarian politician also suggested a nationwide standard regarding fines for people who violate mask requirements and limits on the number of people allowed at public and private gatherings.

Authorities around Germany have already begun stepping up enforcement of mask requirements on public transit.

dr/msh (dpa, AFP)