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Coronavirus: Tests urged for returning German tourists

July 24, 2020

Returnees from high-risk countries, especially those on the Mediterranean, could bring back the virus, top state health officials warn. But a plan for mandatory COVID-19 tests at airports has met with some resistance.

People rush past Germany's first walk-through coronavirus test center at Frankfurt Airport
Image: Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach

Fresh talks are taking place on Friday between federal and state health ministers over whether to impose mandatory coronavirus testing on holidaymakers returning from high-risk countries, amid growing concern over infection spikes at popular holiday destinations.

Setting up COVID-19 testing stations at German airports and making tests mandatory for returnees is one of the proposals that ministers will consider.

Walk-through testing stations are already in operation at Germany's Frankfurt and Munich airports, but there is no obligation for passengers to participate.

Germany has put in place guidelines for people returning from one of the over 100 high-risk countries, as identified by the country's public health body, the Robert Koch Institute.

Returnees are meant to enter a 14-day home quarantine as well as register with the local health authority.

People are only exempt if they can provide proof of a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old, but there are no checks in place to follow up if people are sticking to these guidelines.

Read more: Danger of coronavirus second wave in Germany is real but avoidable, health minister says

Vacationing in a pandemic

Concern over holiday hotspots

Turkey — one of Germany's most popular holiday destinations, along with the US, Egypt and Israel — all currently feature on the RKI's high-risk list.

There have also been increases in infection rates recently at holiday resorts in Croatia and Mallorca, Spain, that are popular with Germans.

Uncertainty remains over who would carry out the testing. The German Airports Association (ADV) has said that airport staff are not authorized to carry out health checks.

"Should the health authorities order a rapid test of any kind, it would have to be carried out by the authorities," German press agency, cited the ADV as saying.

On Friday, health ministers will also be discussing which type of COVID-19 test could be used. Currently, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is used. But, these tests do not show a positive result if a person is recently infected and the virus load is still low.

Read more: Coronavirus in Mallorca: The party's over for tourists amid new lockdown

Politicians in favor

Saxony's state premier Michael Kretschmer insists the tests should be mandatory, along with Karl Lauterbach, a scientist and politician from the center-left SPD, who has suggested carrying out another test a few days later at family doctors or by health authorities.

He retweeted a short video clip from German public-broadcasting institution WDR where he advocates testing for all returning holidaymakers.

The head of the German Medical Association Klaus Reinhardt has also come out in favor of the idea.

"If you first allow people to enter the country and then travel around, then time will pass in which they can infect others," he told German public broadcaster ARD. It's better to test them directly on their return and make this obligatory, Reinhardt added.

Read more: Vacation rentals in huge demand among 'safety-first' holidaymakers

Free holidays for Italian health-care workers

However, the head of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv), Klaus Müller, is against the idea of making the tests mandatory.

"We think it makes sense that all returning travelers can be tested for the coronavirus if they want to," he told the Rheinische Post.

Questions also remain over who should be paying for the tests, who should be tested and if the testing scheme should be extended to holidaymakers returning by land or sea borders too.

Health spokesperson for the business-friendly FDP Andrew Ullmann told the Saarbrücker Zeitung on Friday that holidaymakers should have to pay for their own tests.

Kate Martyr
Kate Martyr Editor and video producer at DW's Asia Desk and News Digital