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German leaders have agreed that the German government will stop paying for rapid coronavirus tests in order to encourage more people to get vaccinated. Unvaccinated people will still be required to take tests.
Hygiene restrictions are set to be lifted over the coming months for people in Germany who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID, according to a decision reached Tuesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's 16 state premiers. Free government-paid COVID testing will also be ended.
Merkel said after the meeting that Germany needed to encourage more people to get vaccinated, as it provides "protection for everyone."
The chancellor added that the rising number of COVID cases in Germany can be fully attributed to people who have not yet been vaccinated.
"We are now focused, as the number of infections rises, on those who have not yet been vaccinated," Merkel said.
She added that it would be good to see the rate of vaccination reach "well over 70% and up to 80%," although she admitted this was not certain at the moment.
"Since we can now offer vaccines comprehensively to every citizen in Germany, we will be ending the free COVID-19 tests for everyone effective on October 11," the chancellor said.
After that date, people will have to pay for their own tests where required, although children and teenagers, as well as people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, will be exempt.
"Those who are not vaccinated will, in the future, need to be tested regularly when they are indoors with other people," read a draft of the decision seen by German news agencies.
The agreement reached by the various state heads will see unvaccinated individuals obliged to provide proof of a negative test to enter certain indoor facilities such as hospitals and care homes as well as sport, cultural and entertainment events in areas where the infection rate rises above 35.
Bavaria's State Premier Markus Söder asserted that vaccinations would remain voluntary, but that those who refused the jab would have to take some responsibility, and that taxpayers could not cover their tests forever.
He still urged people to get the vaccine, saying testing is not enough, and warned of further outbreaks.
"What is clear is that this fourth wave is coming, and definitely in the autumn," he told a news conference after the meeting. "The current infection rates are not sufficient to be carefree."
Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller, who chaired the meeting, told the press conference that great progress had been made and that restrictions and vaccinations had "saved many lives."
But he also warned of possible setbacks. "We've learned over the past one and a half years that anything can happen, that we will have to face new virus variants."
He added that the issue is now not about increasing restrictions, but increasing the vaccination rate.
The requirements for testing will be lifted for those who have been vaccinated or recovered. The aim is to increase pressure on those who have so far rejected the free coronavirus vaccine.
Some 55% of people in Germany — almost 46 million people — have been fully vaccinated while a further 3.7 million have recovered from serious infections and have acquired a certain level of immunity.
Experts are concerned about the spread of the highly contagious delta variant which has caused a rise in cases.
The German government's disease control and prevention agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recorded an infection rate of 23.5 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days on Tuesday. The rate had fallen below five several months ago.
ab/wmr (dpa, Reuters)