German laboratories are running out of capacity for PCR tests - and not just in Berlin. According to the laboratory association ALM, the utilization of test capacities was 86 percent last week. At the request of the city-state, the health ministers of the federal states had already discussed a radical restriction of free PCR tests on Monday. These were to be cancelled for contacts, "free tests" and cases of risk encounters noticed by the Corona warning app.
Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also announced, in light of rapidly increasing omicron case numbers, "that we have to distribute the PCRs, prioritize them. For this, I will present a proposal this weekend." He said Wednesday evening on the ZDF program "Markus Lanz."But how can it be that laboratories in Germany are working at the limits of their capacity, while other European countries are managing far higher test numbers? Couldn't lab capacity be expanded much more massively here, too? A comparison shows how far behind Germany is.
Austria was not only the first EU country to introduce compulsory vaccination from the age of 18 but also launched a broad PCR testing program. In the test streets of the "Austria tests" campaign, anyone can get tested free of charge. Free tests are also available at pharmacies and schools. The "Alles gurgelt" program in Vienna and Upper Austria is particularly low-threshold, allowing PCR tests to be carried out at home and handed in at supermarket branches for sequencing.
It so happens that in Vienna alone, more PCR tests are performed than in all of Germany. Just under 500,000 were recorded by the spokesman for Health City Councilor Peter Hacker (SPÖ) last Friday - and about 2.4 million per week.
For Germany, which is a good forty times larger, the Robert Koch Institute reported a mere 2,050,740 PCR tests in the second calendar week. Since the beginning of the pandemic, an average of 1.17 tests per inhabitant have been carried out in Germany, compared with 5.9 per inhabitant in Austria. For every Viennese, there have been a whopping 17.04 PCR tests since the pandemic began.
If the city council spokesman states the Viennese laboratory capacity as 900,000 to one million PCR tests per day, this exceeds the German value by a factor of two. A mere 429,898 possible tests per day are cited by the RKI as capacity for the current week.
The numerous and easily accessible PCR tests help "all Viennese feel safer," spokesman Dujakovi? wrote on Twitter. As a result, he said, they are also more likely to comply with protective measures. "That testing capacities collapse is not a law of nature". Rather, he says, there is a choice between two strategies: "reprioritize without expanding capacity." Or, "capacity expansion without reprioritizing."
A spokesman for the Austrian Chamber of Pharmacists takes a similar view. "Especially now, with high incidences, it is important to carry out as many tests as possible to break the omicron wave. Whether the tests remain free for the population is a political decision," he wrote in response to a question from the Tagesspiegel.
Unlike in Germany, in Austria "five to ten test results would be 'pooled,' that is, evaluated together, and only if the result is positive would they be separated again and subsequently examined in detail individually." According to a report in "t-online", the price for a PCR analysis can thus be reduced to six euros.Admittedly, Austria's laboratories are also reaching their limits in some places, which is why the government wants to allow antigen self-tests as detection again in the future. However, this is controversial, and not only in Austria, because of the sometimes inadequate validity of the antigen tests.
United Kingdom: More than twice as many PCR tests per inhabitant
The United Kingdom, which has often been scolded for negligent guidelines and slow political reactions in the Corona pandemic, is also much better off than Germany in terms of testing capacity. According to the authorities, the daily capacity for last Wednesday, for example, was 997,252 PCR tests. With a population similar to Germany's, that's more than twice as high.
In the U.K., a total of nearly 190 million PCR tests have been performed since the pandemic began - compared to just under 100 million in Germany. In terms of population, each Briton has had 2.82 PCR tests sequenced. This is also more than twice as much as in Germany.Unlike in Germany, the procedures for booking PCR tests do not differ depending on where you live. Rather, any Briton can order an appointment or test kit for home via a central server.
Denmark: Optimism thanks to 58 million PCR tests
Thanks to high vaccination rates and record-breaking PCR test numbers, the voices that want to lift Corona protection measures as quickly as possible and predict an early end to the pandemic predominate in Denmark. Regardless of whether that actually occurs, the country boasts a remarkable 58 million PCR tests.
By comparison, Germany, as mentioned, has had about 97 million PCR tests since the pandemic began. In terms of population, each Dane has taken an average of 9.9 tests, a good eight times as many as the average German. The figures for the past seven days also underline this: around 1.4 million PCR tests have been carried out in the Kingdom. The German figure of two million is not much higher.
Significantly higher test numbers in France as well
Record incidences are also shaking neighboring France: 3200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants have been registered in the past seven days, compared to a good 700 in Germany. At the same time, the government is currently announcing relaxations for vaccinated persons and tightened restrictions for unvaccinated persons.However, if we look at the PCR test figures, we also see a clear lead in France compared to Germany. For the first and second calendar week of the new year, the authorities report well over three million PCR tests each. There were 3.39 million from January 10 to 16, and 3.95 million from January 3 to 9. By comparison, the RKI reported only 2.05 and 1.5 million PCR tests for each of these weeks.
Image by Samuel F. Johanns