Berlin - With the rate of infection rising again and Germany's vaccination programme sputtering along slower than in other EU countries, the government is throwing resources into testing, with a focus on antigen quick tests.
They're now promising one free quick test per person per week. Berlin is now offering free antigen tests at more than 100 locations around Berlin, including many pharmacies. People with a positive result will be offered a free PCR test to confirm the result.
At some of the larger centres you can show up during opening hours. At the smaller centres, an online appointment is required. Usually, you will receive the results of your quick test within 20-30 minutes by e-mail.
Find a test centre near you and book an appointment at https://test-to-go.berlin/ (info in German and English).
Quick tests have also gone on sale at supermarkets and drug stores - but they seem to sell out almost immediately when a new shipment arrives.
Then there's the old way of getting tested through your doctor. Who can potentially get tested this way?
- People suffering from symptoms: you know the drill by now - the most common corona symptoms include a dry cough, fever and tiredness, but may also extend to loss of taste or smell, or aches and pains.
- A contact person: You are considered a contact person if you have spent at least 15 minutes in close contact with a corona-positive person; live with with a confirmed case; were in a situation where droplet infection could have occurred like indoor sports or a choir rehearsal; have been in a relatively confined space, such as a classroom, with a corona-positive person for more than 30 minutes; have received a warning from the German corona warning app; or have cared for a corona-positive person or been cared for by them.
- People living in a care home or health facility which has had a Covid-19 outbreak (or have visited one in the last 10 days).
- People returning from a designated risk area: check the list on the Robert Koch Institute’s (RKI) website for destinations classified as “risk areas” (it’s in German, but look at the top of the page for a regularly-updated PDF in English). You should get a test within 10 days of arrival from any of these countries or regions - and are expected to inform your local Gesundheitsamt (health office) and quarantine for 14 days or at least until you can show a negative test result. This also applies if you’re returning from any of the internal risk areas within Germany, of which Berlin is one!
So how do I actually get tested?
- If you think you have corona symptoms, stay at home and try and keep a distance of two metres from other people.
- Then call your local health office (Gesundheitsamt) for your district (Bezirk). Use this RKI tool to enter your postcode and find contact details for your local office. Based on your situation (including taking any other health conditions you have into account) they will decide whether to refer you for a test and/or advise you on how long to self-isolate at home.
- Some employers make in-house testing available to employees. Ask if this is the case in your workplace.
Where do I go to get tested?
- If your Gesundheitsamt decides you should have a test, they will tell you where to go and when - that could be a hospital, clinic or a local GP’s office.
- There are also a number of screening centres (including drive-throughs) across the city where you can get a test, although some of them are only for residents of the local Bezirk. Most require you to register for an appointment first.
- After the test, stay isolated at home until you get your result.
Tests for travellers, home tests
- Travellers returning from risk areas or travelling elsewhere can get a PCR test done at BER Airport if they show no symptoms. The testing centre there is now run by Centogene, a private company and costs €59 (more for express results). Ideally, you should register and pay online before showing up in order to minimise waiting time.
- Centogene can also send a test kit to your home (€79 including lab processing).
What happens if I test positive?
- Call or write to your Gesundheitsamt again and let them know your result. Give them your phone number and address (find the contact details for your local office here).
- Every Bezirk has different guidelines on how long you should stay in quarantine (normally 10-14 days) and whether you’ll need to do another test at the end. You should self-isolate until you are advised what to do.
- Someone will then get in touch to take details of people you’ve been in contact with who may also need to get tested. They will also check that you have everything you need to stay at home for the required time.
What if my symptoms become severe?
- If you need medical help for your symptoms, contact your GP or an on-call doctor (Ärztlicher Bereitschaftsdienst, call 116117) as well as notifying your Gesundheitsamt of your change in situation.
- If you need urgent help, call an ambulance (dial 112) or contact a hospital emergency room (here's a list) and tell them you have (or may have) coronavirus so doctors can prepare to transport and treat you safely.
- Don't go to a hospital emergency room without calling first.
Can I speak to someone at my Gesundheitsamt in English?
- Unfortunately none of Berlin's 12 Bezirke have corona information in English on their websites, so this will possibly vary from place to place.
- However, in the English Edition team’s personal experience, health office staff are willing to accommodate your needs to help tackle the virus - so perhaps ask when you initially make contact if an English-speaking member of staff can call you back.
Do I have to pay for a test in a doctor's office?
- If you meet the above testing criteria then no - the cost of the test will be absorbed by your statutory health insurance (Krankenkasse). The test should be free-of-charge even if you are not insured in Germany.
- Testing at the new BER airport is now being conducted by a private company and costs a minimum of €59 (see above).
What’s involved in taking a test?
- The most common type of test is the familiar PCR test, which requires a swab from the back of your throat and/or your nose.
- The time it takes to get your test result generally varies between 24 and 72 hours.
- Often a health professional will take the swab for you, but in some cases you may be given a self-test kit and instructions on how to use it.
- Antigen tests, which tell you whether or not you’ve had the virus in the past, follow a similar procedure or take a blood sample.
- They are quicker and less reliable than PCR tests, but under the government's new guidance, they will be used more frequently if a quick result is needed or if a patient's PCR test is negative.
How can I get more information?
- The Berlin Senat’s health department has a corona hotline for those who think they may have contracted the virus: 030 90 28 28 28. However, the hotline seems to be permanently over-stetched. Last time we tried to call, we were told 104 people were ahead of us in the queue, with an estimated waiting time of 45 minutes.
- There’s also Bobbi, the chatbot bear who aims to answer more general questions about the virus - although he operates via an external translator that isn't always the most reliable.
Finally, don’t forget to stay safe when you’re out and about living your life in Berlin - check out our daily corona updates for the developments you need to know about. We’re also updating our handy corona rules guide whenever anything changes, so bookmark our page and check back regularly for all you need to know.