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Germany debates scrapping free COVID tests

Germany debates scrapping free COVID tests

Germany debates scrapping free COVID tests

Under new plans put forward by the Health Ministry, Germany could soon do away with the offer of free antigen rapid tests for all residents, in a bid to encourage people to get vaccinated. The proposal has proved controversial. 

Germany likely to scrap free testing strategy

Ahead of next week’s summit between the federal government and the federal states, Germany’s Health Ministry is preparing its strategy for dealing with coronavirus as we head into autumn and winter. One of the central concepts in a new package of measures put forward this week is the scrapping of the free rapid test network.

Currently, in some states unvaccinated people need to get tested in order to access certain areas of public life, including gyms, museums and restaurants. And since not everyone has had a chance to get vaccinated yet, the federal government has been covering the cost of these tests since March - at least one rapid test per week. Some states, including Berlin, have been paying for one free test per person per day. 

But with the vaccination programme now well-advanced in Germany, the federal government is looking to cut costs - and perhaps even convince a few people who are dragging their feet over vaccines - by cutting the offer. The rationale is that hesitant people might be given the impetus to go and get jabbed if they have to pay for tests out of their own pockets. 

Mid-October has been put forward as a potential cut-off date, on the basis that, by that point, everyone will have had a chance to get vaccinated, meaning taxpayers cannot be expected to continue to cover the cost of tests. 

Politicians divided on the issue

In certain quarters, the proposal has gone down well. The state premier of Schleswig-Holstein, Daniel Günther, even suggested bringing the end date forward to September 20, to coincide with the end of the summer holidays. The state premier of Bavaria, Markus Söder, also indicated his support, saying, “Testing costs enormous sums.” The SPD is also firmly of the opinion that the free testing system is not sustainable in the long run. 

The free tests have cost the German state around 3,7 billion euros so far this year, the Ministry of Health revealed following a request from the Rheinische Post. To put that in perspective, in 2020 the federal government spent around 2,9 billion euros on financial support for people studying in Germany via the BAföG scheme. 

Others, however, aren’t so keen on the idea. “We can’t put a gun to everyone’s head who doesn’t want to be vaccinated,” said Hubert Aiwinger, leader of the Free Voters party. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also said he was concerned the move might push people in the other direction: “How many people do you think will stop taking or be able to take the test if it’s not free?” he said. “With that, there could be a hidden infection event.” 

Green Party health politician Janosch Dahmen warned against adopting this approach to persuade people to get vaccinated: “As a doctor and politician, I am not convinced that we will get people to vaccinate at the current time with debates about pressure, coercion and punishment,” he said. He added that, with 30 million people in Germany still unvaccinated, the debate was coming at completely the wrong time. 

Abi

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Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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