Health ministers in Germany have pledged to clamp down on fraud in coronavirus test centres across the country, after evidence that some have been claiming for more tests than they have carried out.
At an emergency meeting on Monday after German media exposed the anomalies, Jens Spahn, the federal health minister, and representatives from the 16 states agreed to introduce reforms at the 15,000 test centres.
Since March, Germans have been able to have at least one free coronavirus test a week, with some states providing one test a day. The national daily test capacity is about 360,000 a day.
Test centres receive €18 (£15) for each test carried out.
tuttavia, as increasing numbers of test centres sprang up around the country, no system was in place to track the number of tests actually done, compared with the numbers submitted by the centres to the government, for which they are quickly reimbursed.
A spokesperson for the health ministry said that in future the number of tests a centre claims to have carried out will be checked against the number of test kits it has been provided with and invoiced for, to reduce what he referred to as “criminal scheming”. In addition to random checks by health authority staff, the tax office might also be asked to check a test centre’s accounts, the participants agreed, with records expected to be kept until 2024.
The amount of money received by a centre for each test is in future likely to go down, as the cost of the test kits themselves had reduced considerably, the spokesperson added. This would not reduce the amount a centre received for carrying out a test, but would lower the incentive to be fraudulent.
The centres were set up quickly and – unusually for Germany – in a deliberately unbureaucratic way, in locations as varied as kiosks, cafes, libraries and chemists, to ensure immediacy and efficiency. Spahn said on Monday morning that this approach had contributed considerably to Germany’s success in bringing its third wave of the virus under control.
“Through the comprehensive testing system across the country we have been able to break this third wave,” he told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
But he said the speed and efficiency of the system should not have been seen as an invitation for anyone to profit dishonestly from it.
“This was an offer that was meant to be as broadly available to people as possible, but neither should anyone in this pandemic be making a killing at the expense of the community," Egli ha detto.
At the end of last week, fraudulent activity was alleged to have taken place at several test centres after tip-offs from members of the public. The allegations were backed up in some instances by German journalists who stood at test centre entrances, counting the numbers who went in and comparing them with the number of tests a centre subsequently claimed to have carried out. Prosecutors in the western city of Bochum have opened an investigation into a centre there as a result of the claims.
Di lunedi, the government disease control agency reported fewer than 2,000 new cases of the virus, the lowest level since last autumn. Schools across the country started reopening to the relief of many, after more than five months of online learning and of children being schooled in a shift pattern.
The vaccine programme, which started just after Christmas but was slow to get off the ground, has picked up considerably, and by Monday morning, 50m vaccine doses had been administered, Spahn said. Finora 43% of Germans have received one jab, and nearly 18% now have full protection.
From next week a further boost to the numbers is expected when company doctors are due to start mass vaccinating workforces. As from 7 June when vaccine prioritisation is to be discontinued, children from the age of 12 will also be eligible for a jab.