Mismanagement of COVID: German government under fire from critics | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

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Struggling Health Minister Jens Spahn has announced he wants to take tighter control over testing centers to counter embezzlement reported by coronavirus testing providers across Germany.

He met with health ministers from Germany’s 16 states on Monday to discuss next steps to tighten control over private service providers across the country.

The charges first surfaced last week, following reports that testing centers operated by the MediCan company had issued financial reimbursement requests for hundreds of COVID-19 tests that had not been carried out.

Five states are launching investigations into this embezzlement.

“Criminals must be punished”

COVID-19 test centers have become common sites in many German cities, appearing on almost every street in some parts of the country. Berlin alone has more than 400.

Part of Germany’s post-containment reopening strategy allows every resident to undergo a rapid antigen test for free at least once a week – a so-called citizen test. An up-to-date negative test result is required for many activities such as shopping and outdoor dining, so business is booming.

The German government ultimately foots the bill for the tests – but there does not appear to be a procedure in place to verify whether the tests have actually been carried out.

Test centers document each test they perform in a list. They can claim € 6 ($ 7.30) for each test kit and € 12 for the procedure itself from the Association of Doctors of Statutory Health Insurance, which is again reimbursed by the Federal Office of Security. social.

The problem is that nobody checks if the tests were carried out correctly. The authorities involved only check the “plausibility” of invoices, so they would only notice if the number of tests a test center wants reimbursed was significantly greater than the number of test kits they had previously ordered. .

It is unlikely that controls can be strengthened effectively in the short term. Consumer protection advocates insist that the personal data of those tested should not be passed on.

Health Minister Spahn has announced that he now wants to reduce the amount the government reimburses for each citizen test – from € 18 to less than € 10.

Karl Lauterbach, epidemiologist and vice-chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the Bundestag, told ARD television on Monday morning that there should be a cap on reimbursements at commercial facilities.

Surgical masks sell in Germany for 50 cents now

“Sloppy” management of the pandemic

Opposition parties were quick to blame Spahn and his center-right Christian Democrats and their coalition partner, the center-left SPD.

“The government has had months to wisely prepare the rapid test campaign and create a secure system,” Christian Dürr, of the Free Democrats, told AFP news agency. “I also blame [SPD Finance Minister Olaf] Scholz, because we are talking about a huge amount of taxpayer money. “

And Susanne Hennig-Wellsow, the co-leader of the Left Party, called the entire rapid test system “hasty and chaotic” and said there had been “negligent management of a key pillar of the fight against the coronavirus and taxpayer dollars “.

The trail of scandals started with face masks

The embezzlement at testing centers is just the latest in a series of financial frauds and scams that have hampered the Department of Health’s handling of the pandemic.

Spahn has been accused of wasting taxpayer money after the Department of Health overpaid for face masks. First, there was an agreement with a company where Spahn’s husband works: the Department of Health spent nearly a million euros on 570,000 surgical masks in April 2020.

And in May of this year, it emerged that the government had also paid an extremely high price for millions of FFP2 masks from Swiss company Emix. Left-wing party member Fabio de Masi said in a statement that the deal was made “with a golden handshake” and that Spahn “owed the public an explanation.”

It wasn’t the first time that face masks were a controversial issue. Earlier in 2021, several politicians from Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc profited from the government’s negotiation of mask purchases: Nikolas Löbel of the CDU and Georg Nüsslein of their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, were both coerced to resign after allegations that they have accumulated € 910,000 for lobbying. on behalf of the mask companies.

Yellow vaccination passport with AstraZeneca swabs

German paper vaccination passports with COVID stamps are available online for a few hundred euros

Fake vaccine passports

It’s not just the tests that have come under scrutiny. People who have been fully vaccinated are exempt from certain COVID restrictions.

Reports emerged earlier in May that fake vaccine passports, which prove that a person is fully vaccinated, can easily be obtained online for a few hundred dollars.

Small yellow booklets with stickers and stamps to mark vaccines are easy to forge. Several cases have already been detected across the country of falsified vaccine passports used to access public spaces or to travel.

It is difficult to verify the validity of vaccine passports in their current form.

“I consider the problem of false vaccination passports as a prime example of a new phenomenon which could have been easily predicted,” said Sebastian Fiedler of the Federation of German Detectives in Handelsblatt newspaper.

Spahn claimed that a planned “digital immunity certificate” would make forgery more difficult – but that is not expected to be rolled out until later in the summer.

And skeptics cite the lack of success of the government’s COVID tracking app as an example of how German bureaucrats are failing to successfully introduce digital technology in the fight against the pandemic.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW’s editors summarize what’s going on in German politics and society, with the aim of understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here, to stay abreast of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.


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