Germany to end mandatory tests for travellers, bans protests

BERLIN (AP) — Germany will end mandatory coronavirus tests for travellers returning from high-risk areas abroad and again focus its testing strategy on people with symptoms or possible exposure to COVID-19 patients, the country’s Health Minister said yesterday.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said over the summer vacation period the number of virus tests performed in Germany nearly doubled to 900,000 per week, in part to identify people who caught the virus during trips abroad.

People coming home from coronavirus risk areas were offered free tests at airports, train stations and highway stops, allowing them to cut short the required two-week quarantine if their result came back negative.

Travellers returning from high-risk areas, which include most countries outside the European Union (EU) and some regions inside the bloc, will in the future be required to go into mandatory quarantines for at least five days before taking a test, which may no longer be free unless ordered by a doctor. “With the end of the vacation period … this risk is going down again,” Spahn told reporters in Berlin. “We have to focus more on patients with symptoms and those who had contact with COVID patients.”

Spahn did not say when exactly the testing strategy would change, but it is likely that decision will be made at a meeting today between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors. The change in the country’s testing strategy is also due to Germany’s labs reaching the limits of their capacities, Spahn said.

Yesterday, Germany’s disease control centre reported 1,576 new confirmed coronavirus cases. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country reported 236,429 cases and 9,280 virus-related deaths. The average age of infected individuals has declined to 32 from around age 50 at the beginning of the pandemic.

More younger people becoming infected means that fewer COVID-19 patients ended up hospitalised, but “we want to avoid that (the virus) will reach those groups that are especially vulnerable”, Spahn said.

Late on Tuesday, the parties in Germany’s governing coalition agreed to extend short-work measures introduced due to the pandemic until the end of next year, with the government supporting companies using the strategy to avoid layoffs with around EUR10 billion in tax money.

In further developments, authorities in Berlin yesterday banned several protests planned against coronavirus pandemic measures. The protests have drawn support from the German far right.

Officials said those protesting would likely have breached rules on social distancing designed to stop the spread of the virus. Germany has seen an upswing in new confirmed cases in recent weeks, and the government is considering whether to impose fresh restrictions again.