BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany wants to scrap mandatory free coronavirus tests for returning travellers it introduced early this month to stop a rise in new cases, its health minister said on Wednesday, citing capacity constraints at laboratories.
The free tests were introduced in the first week of August after new coronavirus cases breached the 1,000-a-day threshold for the first time since May, fuelling fears of a return to painful lockdowns.
The tests have been criticised by some health professionals as ineffective as some holidaymakers who had tested negative at airports produced positive results several days later. There are also staff and equipment shortages.
A rule requiring travellers returning from areas that Germany considers as hotspots to self-quarantine for 14 days will remain. The quarantine can be lifted five days after arrival at the earliest with a negative test result.
Compulsory tests for those travellers will stay in place.
Spahn said, however, that should mandatory tests be scrapped, local authorities will have to intensify monitoring to ensure returning holidaymakers abide by quarantine rules.
“This is not a plea, it is a government order,” said Spahn. “At a time when the number of new infections in Germany is low it is important to prevent the virus spreading in the country through returning travellers.”
Many details still have to be finalised, such as whether tests for returnees from risk regions should remain free of charge and when the new rules should kick in.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said 42% of recent new cases had likely occurred abroad. It reported just under 1,600 new infections on Wednesday, bringing Germany’s total to 236,429, including 9,280 deaths.
The foreign ministry is extending its travel warning for countries outside Europe until Sept. 14 due to continued concern about the coronavirus, a government source said.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Patricia Weiss; Editing by Madeline Chambers)