Germany mulls mandatory tests to stop second virus wave

Berlin (AFP) –


Calls were growing louder in Germany on Monday for mandatory coronavirus tests for travellers returning from high-risk areas, as fears grew over rising case numbers blamed on local outbreaks and summer holidays.

Germany's 16 states have shown a "great willingness to move closer to such mandatory tests", chancellery chief of staff Helge Braun said after a meeting with state officials.

"The question of how this can be implemented must now be examined in detail and I believe that we will come to a solution relatively quickly."

Bavarian premier Markus Soeder had earlier joined a growing chorus of voices calling for tests to become compulsory for returning holidaymakers.

"We are preparing everything so that if the federal government gives the go-ahead, we can implement it immediately," he said.

Soeder also said Bavaria will set up coronavirus test sites at its two biggest railway stations as well as key points on motorways.

On top of existing test centres at Bavarian airports, tests will now be offered at the Munich and Nuremberg train stations, as well as on three major motorway routes near the Austrian border.

"We cannot completely prevent corona, so the goal must be to detect it in time to stop it from spreading," Soeder said.

- Free tests for all -

Germany's 16 states agreed Friday to offer free coronavirus tests to all returning travellers but stopped short of making the tests mandatory.

Ahead of the talks on Monday, Braun had already indicated the government could favour compulsory tests.

"Most people who take up the voluntary offer (for tests) are the ones who take care when they are on holidays, while those who are careless" do not, he said in an interview with public radio RBB.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said at the weekend that the government was looking at compulsory testing, but it was not clear whether such a move would be legal.

Amid the deliberations over summer travel, some 500 workers were sent into quarantine on a large Bavarian farm at the weekend in order to contain a mass coronavirus outbreak.

At least 174 seasonal workers have tested positive for the virus on the farm in the municipality of Mamming, most of them from Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Workers wearing masks could be seen on Monday milling around on the steps of the containers used to house them at the isolated rural site.

Soeder said Bavaria would test all seasonal farm workers in the state and increase fines for farms that breach regulations to 25,000 euros ($29,400) -- five times more than the current penalty.

Germany has fared better than many of its neighbours in suppressing the virus, reporting just over 200,000 cases and 9,118 deaths to date, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

But the country has also been hit by repeated coronavirus outbreaks at slaughterhouses, keeping authorities on high alert.

"From what we have experienced in the last few days, with over 800 cases a day in some cases, we must get back into a situation where we are well below 500," Braun said.