Status: 02/23/2021 1:15 p.m.
Rapid tests tend to be slow in Germany. In addition to the vaccinations, they should be an important component on the way out of lockdown. What is the problem – and what is the difference to self-tests?
Two instruments are intended to secure the long-awaited way out of the corona lockdown: more and more vaccinations, but also more and more tests that are easy to use. Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn announced an offensive on a broad front – with free quick tests as an offer for all citizens, carried out by trained staff. And in the future, with self-tests for everyone directly at home. Other countries have long since progressed.
Rapid tests are coming – but not so quickly
Soon all citizens should be able to have free rapid tests for the coronavirus in test centers or pharmacies. Federal Health Minister Spahn said last Tuesday: “From March 1st, all citizens should be able to be tested free of charge by trained staff with rapid antigen tests.” The CDU politician explained that the costs would be financed from the federal budget.
In the meantime it is clear: Nothing will come of it that quickly. The Corona cabinet, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, slowed the minister. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the expansion of the rapid tests should only be discussed at the federal-state consultations on March 3rd.
For Spahn, it is not the first promise in this pandemic that he cannot keep. It is once again the case that Spahn announced things “that will not come this way, or at least not that quickly,” said Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller. This is “not a funny situation,” said the SPD politician and chairman of the conference of prime ministers. FDP leader Christian Lindner also warned: “ The disappointment at the start of the vaccination must not be repeated.” The Greens speak of a “serious failure”.
And the Association of Towns and Municipalities demands: “ The federal government and the states must now clearly state by when they can obtain how many and which rapid tests and how the distribution in the states will be initiated,” said chief executive Gerd Landsberger of the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” “.
Why were Spahn’s plans stopped?
It is not very clear. Apparently, some federal states are dissatisfied with the previous concept from the Ministry of Health. Among other things, it has not yet been clarified how exactly the rapid tests should be organized in the countries and how often everyone can be tested. In addition, Spahn should apparently renegotiate the prices under pressure from the coalition housekeepers. The federal government had set aside up to nine euros per test for funding and another nine euros for taking the test and issuing a certificate.
What exactly are rapid tests?
The big advantage: a result should be there in 15 to 30 minutes. For this, a nasal or throat swab is taken, but this is not that easy and is not so pleasant for many. The evaluation is then similar to pregnancy tests, as the Ministry of Health explains: The sample is placed on a test strip, which reacts with a discoloration. However, these antigen tests are not considered to be as precise as other PCR tests. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a positive result must therefore be confirmed by a PCR test. Rapid tests can already be used in nursing homes, clinics and, after infection, in schools, for example. So far, however, it has only been used sporadically. Some cities also offer rapid tests, such as Osnabrück, Halle or Schmalkalden in Thuringia.
How rapid corona tests work and how safe they are
David Beck, SWR, tagesschau24 4:00 p.m., February 16, 2021
Are there enough rapid tests at all?
That too has to be shown. In some nursing homes there are problems because of a shortage of staff, and soldiers sometimes jump in. For the tests themselves, the federal government expects sufficient material: For Germany, up to 800 million pieces are secured for this year. Incidentally, since the beginning of February, thousands of companies in the “critical infrastructure” – from energy to transport to supermarkets – have been able to order quick tests for operational protection concepts, as Spahn recently recalled. But this is probably not yet really widespread.
How could tests run in schools?
By testing the whole class at once before school starts. After all, it would be a logistical challenge to test all students individually. In the case of pool tests – according to a suggestion from experts – on the other hand, the samples from one class could be combined and then tested once in the laboratory. A second sample from each individual would only have to be tested if the collective test was positive by noon. Otherwise the all-clear would apply to the entire class.
What can rapid tests actually do?
According to experts, rapid tests can be an important tool for a slow return to normalcy. “Sufficient rapid tests are the prerequisite for being able to relax in a more relaxed pandemic,” explains Green health expert Janosch Dahmen. Until there are enough of them, the most important areas such as schools, daycare centers or nursing homes would have to be equipped.
The federal government restricts, rapid tests only provided a result for one day. And even a negative is “no license” to no longer keep your distance. The RKI and the Paul Ehrlich Institute consider rapid tests to be particularly useful in the phase when infected people have a high viral load – i.e. one to three days before the first symptoms and in the first seven days of the disease. The n infected people and close contact persons can be specifically isolated.
And what about self-tests?
Recently, calls for quick tests that can be freely purchased and that you can do yourself without training at home – for example as spit and gargle tests, as has long been done in some other countries have become louder and louder. The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) has received around 30 applications for a special license; for example, it is being checked that they can be safely used by lay people.
The y should then be available virtually everywhere – in pharmacies, but also in supermarkets and online. Such tests can generally also come onto the market without official special approval with other certifications, as the Federal Institute explains.
What is the experience of other countries like?
In Austria, the self-tests are already being used in schools. In the test method used in Austria, a swab is used to take a swab in the nasal cavity. A solution is applied to the swab, and the test strip changes color after 15 minutes. The Austrian Ministry of Education advertises in a video that it is as easy as picking a nose. Teachers accompany the test and have been trained beforehand. According to the Ministry, the schools are to be equipped with a total of 20 million test units in the next few weeks. Epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner assessed the tests in the Vienna “Standard” as positive, despite initial skepticism: All tests had weaknesses, “especially these”, he told the newspaper. “But if we manage to filter out 40 percent on a regular basis, then a lot is gained.”
From March 1st, free corona self-tests for at home are to be issued in pharmacies in Austria. Every Austrian should have up to five pieces per month, reported the news agency APA.
Which risks remain?
In the case of false negative tests, infected people can go undetected. The RKI states that the informative value of antigen tests in infected people who have not yet had any symptoms is limited. “A negative result in the antigen test does not rule out an infection.” This applies especially in the early incubation phase or from the second week after the onset of symptoms. Particularly in the case of potentially serious consequences of false negative results, such as an entry of an infection in a nursing home, there should be PCR confirmation tests – or frequent tests every two to three days. According to the RKI, non-targeted testing of people without symptoms is also not advisable for PCR tests, because the informative value of a negative result is too unclear.