Germany scraps free testing in move towards vaccine passports

Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees new Covid-19 measures with state leaders

A health worker carries out a rapid Covid-19 test in Leipzig, Germany, where free screening for the virus will soon end. Getty
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Germany will scrap free testing for Covid-19 in a bid to encourage vaccine uptake.

The move agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers will be accompanied by stricter health checks at indoor venues.

Unvaccinated people will need to take a negative test to dine indoors, stay at hotels or enter indoor sports venues such as gyms and swimming pools.

Germans can currently get such a test for free, but state leaders agreed at talks with Ms Merkel that charges should apply from October 11.

“We have to increase people’s readiness to be vaccinated,” said Bavarian premier Markus Soeder as the talks began on Tuesday.

“Anyone who has been offered a vaccine and consciously rejects it should not be able to get tested for free from October.”

People who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, including children and pregnant women, will still be eligible for free tests.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed the country's new coronavirus strategy with state leaders. EPA

About 55 per cent of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated, but progress has slowed in recent weeks. Ms Merkel wants this to rise above 70 per cent.

"The bad news is that the vaccination rate has lost pace substantially," she said. "I hope it will pick up pace again after the holidays."

While infection rates remain low, a gradual rise in cases fuelled by the Delta variant has prompted debate about how to manage an autumn surge.

Hoping to lead Germany after a September 26 election, Ms Merkel’s possible successor Armin Laschet backed the plan to drive up vaccine uptake.

Mr Laschet's party said unvaccinated people could not expect the taxpayer to keep financing tests. “We want to avoid a new lockdown, we must and we will,” he told a regional parliament in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Infection rate trigger

Under the new plans, compulsory checks will kick in when infection rates rise above 35 cases per 100,000 people in a week or the burden on hospitals is similarly severe.

It follows calls by German politicians to look beyond infection rates and take into account other factors such as the strain on intensive care.

Health checks will apply to hospital and care home visits, indoor cafes and restaurants, sporting and cultural events, indoor fitness centres and swimming pools and stays at hotels.

Unvaccinated people will need to take two tests a week while staying at a hotel, under the new measures which will take effect next month.

Similar policies led to protests in France and Italy after moves to bring in vaccine passports for certain venues.

A French pass is required for restaurants, cafes and cultural venues and travel by plane or high-speed train across the country.

At least seven million people have received their first vaccine shot in France since President Emmanuel Macron announced the stricter measures.

Updated: August 10, 2021, 3:34 PM