Questions and criticism about test plans: Risk area returnees cause chaos

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Politicians have set a clear goal: returners from risk areas should be tested for the corona virus at airports. But what about train or bus travelers? And shouldn’t Mallorca vacationers also be tested? The plans raise many questions – and trigger criticism.
The state health ministers’ plans to make returning travelers from high-risk areas compulsory for the corona virus raise questions among medical professionals and airport operators. Although they are “ready to implement everything that helps and is to be implemented by the authorities,” said a spokesman for Frankfurt airport operator Fraport. First of all, however, you have to wait for the exact specifications of the authorities. The operators are also in talks in Munich, but a lot still needs to be clarified. “We naturally support this,” said a spokesman for the airport. But it is primarily about premises. The implementation must be done by the state.

At Berlin airports, returnees from high-risk areas are expected to be tested for the corona virus as of next week. That was announced by the Governing Mayor Michael Müller. “We have been talking to the airport company since last week and are currently coordinating where and when we will install the test points for returnees from RKI risk countries in Tegel and Schönefeld,” said the SPD politician on Thursday. “Our goal is to be able to offer Covid 19 test sites there early next week.”

The federal and state health ministers had basically agreed on Wednesday evening that travelers from risky areas abroad should in future be tested for the corona virus immediately after their return to Germany. For this purpose, test centers are to be set up at airports. On Friday, the ministers want to discuss further details and decide on an overall package. The tests should be mandatory. So far, people who return from countries severely affected by the coronavirus have had to go to quarantine in Germany for 14 days. It is doubtful whether they actually always do that. That is why politics wants to readjust here. However, there is no quarantine requirement for travelers from almost all EU countries with the exception of Luxembourg and some other European countries.

Lauterbach: Test all travelers

It is therefore questionable how many people will be affected by the new regulation at all. Worldwide, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) currently classifies most of the countries as corona risk areas, including the USA, Brazil, India and Turkey. But since travel from Germany to the United States, for example, is only possible for a few people due to entry restrictions, there are hardly any returnees from there. Many Germans are currently on vacation in Spain, France, Italy and Greece. These countries are not a risk area, although there is also a risk of infection with Sars-CoV-2. For example, on Thursday the case of a family of four from Cottbus became known, which tested positive for Corona after their vacation in Mallorca. Unbridled parties by holidaymakers without a mask or distance had recently made headlines on the island and also startled politics.

A doctor in Berlin criticized the plans of the transport ministers: “From a technical point of view, this is not understandable at all,” said Patrick Larscheid, who is responsible for the Reinickendorf district, where Tegel Airport is located. The targeted tests are a snapshot. In theory, people would have to be tested several times over days and weeks. A big question is also how to deal with car, train and ship travelers, said the spokesman for the Brandenburg Ministry of Health, Gabriel Hesse. “Returning travelers from high-risk areas is not just about air travel.” A spokeswoman for the Deutsche Bahn emphasized on request that currently there are generally no trains from risk areas to Germany

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach, meanwhile, considers it inadequate to only test air travelers for the corona virus. Speaking to the ARD news channel “tagesschau24”, he said that return travelers generally had to be asked to undergo tests. These should be convenient and free of charge. In addition, it was also necessary to test returnees from non-risk areas. “Personally, I would also test the others because we know that behavior is now being observed in the non-risk areas, for example in European party centers, Mallorca, but not only there, which entails a high risk,” said Lauterbach. “Therefore, the non-risk areas may be more dangerous than the risk areas.”

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