New talks are underway on Friday between federal and state health ministers about whether to impose mandatory corona virus testing on tourists returning from high-risk countries, amid growing concerns about the surge in infections in popular holiday destinations.
Establishing a COVID-19 testing station at a German airport and making mandatory tests for returnees is one of the proposals the minister will consider.
Walk-through testing stations are already operating at Frankfurt and Munich airports in Germany, but there is no obligation for passengers to participate.
Germany has set guidelines for people returning from one of the 100 high-risk countries, as identified by the country’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute.
Returnees are intended to enter home quarantine for 14 days and register with the local health authority.
People are only excluded if they can provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old, but there is no examination to follow up if people adhere to these guidelines.
Concerns over holiday hotspots
Turkey – one of the most popular holiday destinations in Germany, along with the US, Egypt and Israel – are all currently on the RKI high-risk list.
There has also been an increase in infection rates recently in holiday resorts in Croatia and Mallorca, Spain, which are popular in Germany.
Uncertainty about who will do the testing. The German Airport Association (ADV) says that airport staff are not authorized to conduct health checks.
“If the health authorities order a rapid test of any kind, it must be carried out by the authorities,” the German news agency, quoting ADV, said.
On Friday, health ministers will also discuss which types of COVID-19 tests can be used. At present, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is used. However, this test does not show positive results if someone is newly infected and the viral load is still low.
The prime minister of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, insisted the test must be compulsory, along with Karl Lauterbach, a scientist and politician from the center-left SPD, who had suggested conducting another test a few days later at the family doctor or by the health authority.
He retweeted a short video clip from the German public broadcaster WDR where he advocated testing for all returning tourists.
Chairman of the German Medical Association Klaus Reinhardt also supports the idea.
“If you first allow people to enter the country and then travel, then time will pass where they can infect others,” he told German public broadcaster ARD. It’s better to test them directly on their return and make this mandatory, added Reinhardt.
However, the chairman of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv), Klaus Müller, opposes the idea of making mandatory tests.
“We think it makes sense that all returning travelers can be tested for the corona virus if they want to,” he told Rheinische Post.
Questions also remain about who should pay for testing, who should be tested and if the testing scheme should be extended to tourists returning through land or sea borders as well.
A health spokesman for business-friendly FDP Andrew Ullmann said Saarbruecker newspaper on Friday tourists have to pay for their own tests.