Germany puts hopes in rapid testing as AstraZeneca vaccines pile up

By Rachel More, dpa

Germany is hoping to claw back some degree of normal life with a new testing regime, although Health Minister Jens Spahn appealed for patience on Wednesday in rolling out the promised tests.

New testing capabilities offered a way of winning back “a bit more freedom,” Spahn told lawmakers in the Bundestag.

While he welcomed the fact that the first three at-home tests had received regulatory approval in Germany earlier that day, the minister said that such kits were not yet broadly available.

These should become more widespread week by week, he said, adding that they could provide peace of mind for individuals or “possibly when it comes to a theatre visit or an event.”

Also on Wednesday, the German government announced it was pushing for a fine of up to 25,000 euros (30,000 dollars) for people who do not wait their allotted turn to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

The RND media group reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has proposed a change to coronavirus containment legislation that will allow higher fines to be imposed.

People who have been caught getting vaccines ahead of time include mayors, local politicians, clerics, police and rescue workers.

Cultural facilities have been closed for months in Germany along with other parts of public life. However, calls for a plan to ease current lockdown restrictions are growing.

The other aspect of Spahn’s strategy is rapid testing carried out by trained professionals. He had initially pledged to offer this free service from March 1 but this has been delayed, leading to criticism from the opposition and from businesses eager to relaunch.

Rapid testing in chemists across the country is now expected to begin in the coming weeks.

Spahn has also come under pressure for Germany’s sluggish vaccination campaign, which has most recently been hampered by a low uptake on the Covid-19 vaccine produced by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca.

According to his ministry, more than 1.4 million doses of the drug have been distributed to German states, but by Tuesday, only around 239,000 had been administered, according to the nation’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Also on Wednesday, the RKI released a study showing that more than half of people in Germany over 15 years of age are at risk of a severe case of Covid-19, primarily because of age and pre-existing illnesses.

RKI scientists estimate that 36.5 million people in this population group are at increased risk, and of those, 21.6 million people are at a high risk.

The authors said the risk is greatly increased in people who are over 65 years of age or who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney problems.

The study notes an increased risk in those affected by other pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma or stroke.

According to the study, a greater proportion of people with a low level of education are in the risk and high-risk groups than among those with higher levels of education.

The research is based on interviews with around 23,000 German-speaking people aged 15 between April 2019 and October 2020.

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