The National Test Strategy
Who is being tested for COVID-19 according to the current National Test Strategy? Find out more here.
Tests are among the most important tools in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. That is why, at the very beginning of this pandemic, Germany quickly set up and steadily expanded its testing capacities.
In the meantime, enough tests are available. Now, not only persons with symptoms or those who have had contact with an infected person can get tested, but all citizens, even those without symptoms. This allows us to uncover cases in which there is no acute suspicion of infection.
By discovering persons who carry the virus early, we can prevent others, who might be at high risk of experiencing a severe, extremely severe or even fatal progression, from becoming infected. This also relieves the strain on the healthcare system. In addition, testing makes it easier to trace the contacts of persons who have tested positive, making any further spread of the SARS-CoV-2 more difficult.
Tests therefore help identify and break chains of infection more quickly. They can also provide additional safety in everyday situations.
Who is being tested
Persons with symptoms indicating a coronavirus infection should contact their doctor or the on-duty medical service. They are entitled to a PCR test. For this purpose, a sample must be collected from each affected person since the viruses multiply in the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. This is why a special swab is used to take a sample from the nose and throat. In severe cases, secretion from the lower respiratory tract may also be taken.
In the case of this test procedure, samples must be sent to a laboratory as soon as possible after being taken. There, the genetic material of the virus is amplified to the extent where it can be detected even if only present in minuscule amounts. The time from test to result is generally about 24 hours.
Rapid antigen tests
Antigen test procedures detect SARS-CoV-2 protein structures. They work in a manner similar to pregnancy tests. To this end, a smear sample is taken from the front of the nose, the nasal cavity or the throat and even saliva or gargle specimens are transferred to test strips. If the sample contains the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the latter’s protein components react with the test strip, which changes colour. The advantage of antigen rapid tests and self-tests is the comparatively low cost and the fast test results (less than 30 minutes). However, self-tests and rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, so that an infection with coronavirus might still exist even in the presence of a negative test result.
Note: If a rapid antigen test or a self-test shows signs of an infection, a confirmatory PCR test is indispensable. A negative coronavirus test result is only a momentary snapshot and does not relieve individuals of the need to take hygiene and protective measures (keyword DHM+A (Distance, Hygiene, Masks + Airing).
Moreover, since 8 March 2021, the Federal Government has been covering the costs of regular rapid antigen testing for all citizens. To this end, the test centres and test stations commissioned by the Laender and the municipalities, as well as other commissioned locations (e.g. doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies) are being used. Rapid antigen tests must be carried out by trained personnel. Antigen self-tests have been freely available for sale since 6 March 2021. Laypersons can use them to test themselves at home.
In Germany, the following groups of persons are tested at the expense of the statutory health insurance:
- Persons with typical COVID-19 symptoms.
- Asymptomatic persons who have had close contact with a person infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
- People in community facilities and communal accommodation (for example, schools, day care facilities, asylum seeker accommodation, emergency shelters, correctional facilities), if someone there was found to have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
- Patients, residents and staff at long-term care facilities or hospitals, if there was an outbreak in the facility. This also applies, for instance, to facilities for people with disabilities, rehabilitation, outpatient surgery or outpatient dialysis, as well as to medical and dental practices and practices of other health professionals, day hospitals and the emergency services.
- Patients or care recipients before admission or readmission: particularly to medical inpatient or outpatient facilities (excluding medical and dental practices and practices of other health professionals), to (semi-)residential facilities providing care and accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs, to home care services, integration assistance services, shelters for the homeless and day hospitals.
- In the case of persons whose rapid antigen test or self-test indicated an infection with SARS-CoV-2, confirmation should be sought immediately by means of a PCR test.
In Germany, the following groups of persons are tested by means of a rapid antigen test paid for by the statutory health insurance:
- In keeping with the facility’s test concept, in the absence of a COVID-19 case: patients, care recipients, people with long-term care needs, residents, particularly at medical inpatient or outpatient facilities (excluding medical and dental practices and practices of other health professionals), at (semi-)residential facilities providing care and accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs, of home care services and integration assistance services and at day hospitals.
- Visitors, immediately before entering the facility: especially visitors to medical inpatient and outpatient facilities (excluding medical and dental practices or practices of other health professionals) as well as to (semi-)residential facilities providing care or accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs.
In addition, since 8 March, all citizens are entitled to at least one rapid antigen test per week. The relevant costs are covered by the Federal Government.
How to proceed in case of suspected infection
Take cold and flu symptoms seriously: even in the case of mild symptoms of a respiratory infection, you should contact your doctor – preferably by phone. First discuss with your doctor by telephone how best to proceed. Outside of normal surgery hours, you can also call the on-duty medical service by dialling the number 0800 0000837 from anywhere within Germany. Your doctor or the on-duty medical service will inform you as to whether a test is required and where to get this test. In case of an emergency, such as with acute breathing difficulties, call the 112 emergency number.
Persons with light, cold-like symptoms should self-isolate and avoid contact with others as much as possible. The RKI recommends that this self-isolation last for five days, in addition to two symptom-free days. Affected persons should discuss with their employers whether it is possible to work from home during this period. If necessary, you should speak to your doctor about obtaining sick leave.
Should you have had contact with someone who has tested positive, even if you do not exhibit symptoms yourself, please contact your local public health office, which will then conduct a personal interview to stipulate the next steps.