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Home tests will give Germans 'more freedom': health minister

February 24, 2021

Health Minister Jens Spahn has said antigen tests will allow people to "win back" part of their lives. He warned, however, that the pandemic is not over, imploring people to remain vigilant.

Man testing himself for the coronavirus
Though not as accurate as lab tests, rapid antigen tests could still be helpful in breaking the coronavirus infection chain Image: Sven Simon/dpa/picture alliance

Speaking to Germany's Bundestag parliament on Wednesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn pointed to the approval of home coronavirus tests, known as antigen tests, as an important step on the return to normalcy.

Though Spahn spoke of freedoms regained, he warned citizens not to let their guard down and called for patience about the availability of tests.

Three such self-administered rapid antigen tests have been given special approval for use by Germany's Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. Although he expressed confidence that more and more tests would be available in the days and weeks following approval, Spahn warned they would be in short supply initially.

Spahn won't commit to government covering costs of antigen tests

"It's exhausting," said Spahn of the pandemic, noting that the availability of tests would allow people to begin living their lives again. Speaking of the government's approach, he said, "We think we we're on the right path but this virus isn't going to just give up."

Self-administered tests are flexible, offering quick results when needed — for instance while traveling or attending public events. The only drawback is that they are not nearly as accurate as those administered by trained personnel.

The health minister refused to commit the government to bankrolling approved tests, saying that would depend on whether they cost €2 or €10.

Federal approach to COVID 'desirable'

Spahn made the case for a unified federal approach to loosening lockdown regimes. He said such an approach would be "very desirable" adding that, "at the very least, we should ideally all be operating within the same framework."

Asked if infection index numbers would determine government decisions on loosening lockdown restrictions, Spahn said, "You can't reduce this pandemic to a number."

Treating everyone the same, for now

Spahn announced that German residents will soon be able to use digital vaccination cards as a supplement to the yellow paper version most have at home. Spahn said rollout had initially been planned for 2022 but that it will be introduced prior to that.

Speaking with the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed her health minister in emphasizing the importance of treating those who are and are not vaccinated the same: "The state should not treat the groups differently as long as vaccination rates are so low."

Merkel went on to say, however, "when the point arrives that far more people have been afforded the opportunity to get vaccinated yet some simply refuse, then we'll have to consider whether access to certain areas or services should be reserved solely for those who are vaccinated." 

js/aw (dpa, epd, Reuters)