BERLIN (AP) — Germany is ending free coronavirus tests for its citizens beginning in October, in part to encourage more people to get vaccinated, officials said Tuesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany now has enough vaccines for its whole population — more than half is already fully immunized — and that studies showed they are effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19, including from infections with the delta variant.
“The not-so-good news is that the speed of vaccination has declined significantly,” Merkel said after a Tuesday meeting with the country’s 16 state governors.
After a sluggish start and only really gaining speed from March onward, Germany’s vaccination campaign has lost speed in recent weeks. In response to the drop in demand, officials have begun pushing for more vaccinations at megastores and in city centers, or offering incentives to get people to get shots.
Merkel said the government hopes 75% of the population will get the shot, but so far only slightly over 55% are fully immunized. She urged Germans who are already vaccinated to encourage others to do so too.
While federal and state officials agreed that people who are fully vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have recently tested negative should continue to be treated equally in most situations, they also decided that antigen tests will stop being free for most people from Oct. 11. Exemptions will be made for those who can’t currently be vaccinated in Germany, such as pregnant women.
Some German politicians had criticized the plan, arguing that it amounts to a tax on the poor. Others say ending free testing is a way of punishing individuals who refuse to get vaccinated.
But Bavaria’s state governor, Markus Soeder, said it would not be fair to those who are vaccinated if they have to keep paying for others’ free tests to access indoor dining, go to hairdressers and gyms, or stay in hotels.
“Everybody can decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated or not,” he told reporters. “But in a free country, everybody bears responsibility for that.”
He said people who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 should not be subject to another lockdown if infection rates rise in the fall.
Merkel appeared to agree, saying that “as long as the vaccine is effective, we can’t simply say that people who are vaccinated (…) can’t exert their rights as citizens.”
While Germany has a relatively low number of confirmed virus cases compared to other European countries, cases are rising again. Authorities fear unvaccinated Germans, especially young people, may contract and spread the virus in the coming weeks and months.
On Monday, the country’s disease control agency registered 2,480 new daily cases, about 700 more than a week earlier.
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