Coronavirus tests
10:33 · 29 October 2021

Rapid tests - a vital tool for stemming the coronavirus pandemic

Test, test, test: This allows hitherto undetected coronavirus infections to be identified faster and infection chains to be interrupted. Regular testing is a vital tool in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Test, test, test

Rapid tests – also known as antigen tests or PoC (point-of-care) rapid antigen tests – really live up to their name: Unlike PCR tests, they are processed on site and quickly deliver results: A rapid test can tell you within 15 to 30 minutes if you are infected with coronavirus. The person tested receives a certificate of the test result that is only valid for a limited period of time. In doing so, rapid tests can give you more security
in everyday life, for instance when planning to visit family or friends.
Currently, a negative test result is indeed mandatory when taking a flight to Germany, unless you can present proof of vaccination or recovery. When entering Germany from an area of variants of concern, a negative test is required even for persons who have been vaccinated or have recovered  – for more information you can visit the article Current information for travellers. Schools, day care facilities or companies are already using rapid tests as an additional precaution.

Compared with PCR tests, rapid (antigen) tests have a lower detection rate, since they require a larger viral load to register a positive result. They reliably identify infected persons who are already symptomatic. However, persons already become infectious about two days before the onset of symptoms. At this point in time, the viral load tends to be too low for a rapid test to detect the infection (unlike a laboratory-processed PCR test). In other words, an infected person can test negative although they are infectious. This is why a test result only ever represents a momentary snapshot. Nevertheless, rapid tests are a vital tool in stemming the coronavirus pandemic, because every detected infection counts. For further information on the opening steps, please visit the Federal Government’s website.

If you have reason to suspect you are infected with the coronavirus – for instance because you have symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person – you should instead directly contact your doctor or public health office and get a PCR test. Click here for an overview of the various types of test.

A positive test result must be confirmed by getting a PCR test

If the rapid test shows up as positive, then the result must be confirmed using a PCR test. To accommodate this, test centres should be equipped to take specimens for such a PCP test at once. Subsequently, persons who tested positive should self-quarantine at home without delay and await the result of the PCR test.

Rapid tests in healthcare facilities

Rapid antigen tests are already in regular use in long-term care homes and hospitals. They can also be used as part of the Länder’s testing concepts in schools and day-carecentres. At this point in time, rapid tests still produce false results at a slightly higher rate than PCR tests. The latter are carried out by health professionals and analysed at a laboratory. By contrast, the self-tests that are freely available for sale can be performed by anyone at home.

Rapid tests in companies

After an amendment of the Ordinance on the sale of medical devices (Medizinprodukte-Abgabeverordnung), rapid tests are also accessible
to companies to keep their staff safe at work. They procure the tests
themselves. The tests can be bought online as well as from pharmacies,
wholesalers or directly from the manufacturer. The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte - BfArM) provides information on rapid antigen tests. According to the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände - BDA) many companies are already testing for coronavirus on a large scale.

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