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Testing is sensible — what took so long?

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App
Jens Thurau
July 28, 2021

Unvaccinated travelers returning to Germany may soon be obliged to undergo COVID tests. This shows how great the government's concern is about the next coronavirus wave, says Jens Thurau.

Tourists on a beach in Usedom
This might not be everybody's idea of fun, but mandatory testing isn't particularly appealing eitherImage: Stefan Sauer/dpa/picture alliance

Looking at the coronavirus situation in Germany at the end of July 2021, you would be forgiven for thinking: What's all the fuss about?

The latest figures show there are around 15 infected people per 100,000 within a time span of seven days — a figure that many countries, such as France, envy the Germans for, even if the numbers are rising again.

Almost half of the population in Germany has been fully vaccinated; 61% have had at least one vaccination. The country, you might think, has the virus under control, including the highly contagious delta variant.

But appearances are deceptive. The government is on edge, and that's why travelers returning to Germany will very likely be required to take a coronavirus test as of August 1. So far, mandatory testing had been restricted to air passengers. Now, those traveling by car and train will also need to take a test, with the exception of those who can prove they have had two vaccinations.

This measure has been a long-running source of controversy within the government. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, for example, considers it excessive. But now the mantra seems to be that it's better to be safe than sorry. Germany's Robert Koch Institute, which is responsible for disease control and prevention, reports a high proportion of new infections among returning vacationers every day. That has set the alarm bells ringing among many within the government who still vividly and painfully remember the great lack of caution last summer that led to high infection rates in the fall and to another painful and nerve-wracking lockdown.

Avoiding the next lockdown

DW editor Jens Thurau
DW editor Jens ThurauImage: DW

The last thing the government wants is another lockdown, especially in an election year. The memory of contact restrictions, closed theaters and clubs, pubs and restaurants is still all too present in people's minds. The government desperately wants schoolchildren and students to be able to return to their classrooms and lecture halls respectively.

But as the worries grow about the rising number of infections, the public's willingness to be vaccinated continues to wane. The targeted vaccination rate of 85% — even 90% for the elderly — by the fall seems almost inconceivable. Germany is also falling behind again within the European Union. This carelessness increases the likelihood of another dangerous coronavirus wave this fall.

The government has always ruled out compulsory vaccination — even for certain groups as is now being introduced in France, for example — not least because it would be difficult to put it on a legal footing. The alternative is to put pressure on unvaccinated people wherever possible, i.e., on vacationers returning to Germany.

Is mandatory testing coming too late?

Exactly what form mandatory testing will take and how it will be monitored are some of the many unanswered questions to pop up in these unsettling times in the case of almost any coronavirus measure. The overriding question this summer will focus around the liberties and freedoms that fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people can enjoy, or not, as the case may be. The pandemic is by no means over; it continues to define almost every facet of our lives. Getting vaccinated seems to be the only viable way out right now. But, disturbingly and depressingly, vaccination centers are now having to destroy vaccine doses.

The high percentage of people who do not want to be vaccinated shows how divided our society is and how insecure people are 18 months into the pandemic. All the politicians' pleas, all the educational campaigns, have failed to reach a worryingly high proportion of the public.

This is particularly depressing when you consider how few vaccine doses people in Africa have received so far. That's why the decision to introduce compulsory testing for travelers is the right one — the only question is why the government has waited so long to do so.

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