German government abolishes free coronavirus tests

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As the number of infections and hospitalizations in Germany rise again rapidly, the government is letting the virus run free and dismantling the last remaining coronavirus measures.

On Friday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (Social Democratic Party, SPD) announced the end of free public testing. A few days earlier, he had presented a vague 7-point plan to combat the impending autumn surge, focusing on vaccinations and testing. Now it is clear that even these areas will not be expanded, but reduced further.

Frankfurt coronavirus testing center (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

From July 1, a test at a public test station will cost three euros. Only vulnerable groups, such as children under five, women in early pregnancy and visitors to hospitals and nursing homes, will continue to get tested free of charge.

The consequences of the decision are vast. For many people who have to be tested regularly, this means a considerable financial burden that workers and socially disadvantaged people in particular can ill afford.

With the removal of free testing, the already insufficient data on the true level of infections will be even less robust. Lauterbach himself revealed that only around half of coronavirus infections were recorded. Without free testing, the number of unreported cases will increase further.

“I won’t hide it, I would have liked to continue the free tests for all,” explained Lauterbach cynically. The move is in line with policies followed by the “traffic light” coalition of the SPD, Liberal Democrats (FDP) and Greens since taking office. It ended all remaining protections, essentially putting into practice the demands of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Lauterbach justifies the abolition of free tests by “the tight budgetary situation which awaits us in the fall”. The “truth” is that the tests “unfortunately cannot be paid for”, he said.

Who is Lauterbach trying to fool? The federal government has just launched a “special fund for the Bundeswehr” of 100 billion euros to be devoted to rearmament. He is simply unwilling to spend the money on coronavirus testing and other health and protection measures. Instead, these costs will be passed on to the working class, which is already grappling with rising costs for heat, rent and food.

The decision makes it clear that the government will take no further action, even under conditions of a massive new wave of infections. The end of free testing not only removes the basis for the reintroduction of limited measures such as requiring a negative test result for entry into certain public places, but the whole “Fall Strategy against coronavirus” does not include a single mandatory protective measure.

Its seven points largely relate to a vaccination campaign and the supply of vaccines suitable for the Omicron variant. However, Lauterbach has already ruled out a new push for compulsory vaccination, even if the majority of the population would support it. We search in vain for terms like “confinement” or even “compulsory masking”. Instead, the document explicitly states that “nurseries and schools must remain open”.

The seventh point refers to an “amendment to the Infection Protection Act”, which expires on September 23. New measures would therefore not come into force until the end of September at the earliest, if at all. Lauterbach said he was in talks about this with Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP). Buschmann is known for regularly campaigning AfD-style against less protective measures.

As recently as June 15, he said on the Maischberger talk show, “We must not underestimate what excessive and poorly applied measures do to society. Our goal must be to combine health protection with our identity as a free society. By “freedom,” the FDP representative means the unlimited accumulation of profits, even if it costs millions of lives.

Essentially, Lauterbach represents the same “profits before life” policy that has been followed since the start of the pandemic. A few days ago, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, he said: “I believe that we all have the same goal here: to be able to react quickly with as few freedom restrictions as possible, adapted to the situation.

At the same time, the government is aware that its policies evoke a new autumn with very high death rates. At the press conference following the conference of state health ministers, Lauterbach said: “Unfortunately, we have to reckon with a severe wave of coronavirus. The summer wave has already started now, but it will be more difficult in the fall.

The federal government’s strategy document lists three possible scenarios developed by its Coronavirus Expert Council. The second scenario is considered the most likely: “The disease burden caused by SARS-CoV-2 remains similar to recent increases in Omicron variants BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1, with one occurrence cluster of infections. and absences from work throughout the cold season. In fact, this scenario has already become reality.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, the most contagious BA.4 and BA.5 variants already account for 56% of infections, with a massive increase in the number of people affected, despite the current hot temperatures. At 618 infections per 100,000 people, the 7-day incidence rate is about 23% higher than a week ago. The virus spreads particularly quickly among the elderly. Last week there were 119 outbreaks in nursing homes and retirement homes, 25 more than a week ago. A total of 50 people died.

The number of serious outcomes is also increasing in the general population. The adjusted incidence of hospitalizations rose to seven (per 100,000) last week, or about 5,500 hospitalizations per week. The number of patients receiving intensive care rose to 780 from 670 the previous week.

To date, more than 140,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Germany due to the government’s refusal to eliminate the virus by implementing the necessary scientific and public health measures. Many more deaths will follow if the ruling class gets its way. According to the government’s strategy document, the “most likely fall coronavirus scenario” could “extend over a long period of time”. Thus, “without taking additional measures, approximately 1,500 coronavirus deaths per week are to be assumed”.

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