Corona tests free again: “It will be chaos”

Status: 11/13/2021 3:30 a.m.

From today everyone can be tested for the corona virus again free of charge. Remaining test sites are ramping up their capacities and criticizing the government’s sluggish course.

By Philipp Wundersee, WDR

Markus Wendler is sitting in his office in Bielefeld, he can’t get away from the phone today. “This political back and forth is just too dynamic. We now have to fully ramp up the capacities for our test centers,” he says. “It’s going to be quite a mess.” The entrepreneur operates seven test centers in Bielefeld and Osnabrück. “We had to reduce staff when the tests were no longer free and the response decreased. But we wanted to keep the infrastructure with our centers running as much as possible.”

Philipp Wundersee

There were days, says Wendler, when he suffered great losses because so little was tested. The young, unvaccinated people in particular hardly ever come for testing. That is why he had already closed two other test stations. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

Since October 11th, corona tests in Germany have generally been chargeable. A look at the figures from the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KV) makes it clear how quickly the utilization of the centers declined. KV Westfalen-Lippe had billed tests for 41 million euros in August; in September it was 28 million euros, and in October it was less than 270,000 euros.

Free corona rapid tests for everyone

From November 13, 2021, everyone in Germany will again be entitled to free corona rapid tests in recognized test centers. The ordinance of the Federal Ministry of Health, which came into force the day before, significantly expands the range of free tests that had been severely restricted a month earlier.

On the basis of the new regulation, all citizens are entitled to at least one rapid antigen test (PoC test) per week by trained staff. This applies regardless of the person’s vaccination or convalescence status. In order to make the offer possible, existing test centers should continue their work. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, the federal states can also commission other test centers to carry out citizen tests for everyone.

Crowds expected at test centers

Markus Wendler makes a profit of two to three euros with a test. That quickly adds up to several 10,000 euros. But the businessman, who has been working in the health sector for 30 years, also has to pay 470 employees for this: doctors, students, nurses who get up to 20 euros an hour from him. He now has to look for them again at short notice, divide them up and work them in.

“We are preparing for the fact that we will have a lot of rush and that there will be a lot of uncertainty among the citizens,” says Wendler. “We appeal to everyone to come to the tests with patience. The bottleneck is our employees and quality takes time.”

Federal government wants to significantly increase the number of tests

According to the Ministry of Health, operators like him who are currently carrying out tests should be able to continue their activities. In addition, medical supply stores or drug stores should now also be commissioned. Significantly more tests are required, said Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn this week in Berlin. As announced, the offer, which was severely restricted four weeks ago, with free quick tests by trained staff, including certification, is now to come back for everyone.

The board of directors of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, Eugen Brysch, calls the temporary abolition of the free tests in October “one of the stupidest decisions in the pandemic”. Wendler also criticizes the political course: “It is an unbelievable short-sightedness of politics and other talkers. Three weeks ago there was talk of Freedom Day. Now we have to act spontaneously in order to continue to implement reliable, qualified testing.”

Operator interest in new test centers unclear

200 kilometers from Bielefeld, Katja Reuter from the city of Cologne takes a relaxed look at the situation of the test centers in her city. “We have had a constant 620 test centers in the city over the past few weeks. Most of them are doctor’s offices and pharmacies,” says the press spokeswoman. “So far, no new providers have announced themselves and asked for an examination.”

At the peak there were around 800 places in Cologne where tests were carried out. However, some private providers should have closed because it didn’t pay off. In the end, the municipalities and the local providers would have to pay for what would be decided in Berlin, criticizes Wendler. “For us, security and thoroughness take precedence over speed. I would like that from politics too.”

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