The image is repeated at the entrance of many clothing franchises in the Kurfürstendamm area, Berlin’s famous shopping street: more or less long queues and people waiting for their turn to come prepared with papers or mobile phones in hand. “Will the negative test show me? Do you have the Luca app installed? Thanks, it can come in ”, an employee checks at the door of a Primark store. Non-essential businesses reopened in March, but with restrictions. First it was necessary to make an appointment; Later, the obligation to present a negative test for coronavirus was imposed. The same has happened with the restoration. Without a test, no one can sit on the terraces of bars and restaurants. The German government has trusted its de-escalation to free coronavirus tests, but the system started up very quickly and without the necessary controls. Now several prosecutors are investigating possible massive fraud among the tens of thousands of centers that have proliferated in the heat of the state grant.
Finding an appointment for a rapid antigen test in March, when the clothing, footwear or decoration stores opened, was very difficult. There were only a few dozen medical centers or pharmacies in the capital to do so, and the gaps were filling up fast: after three months with retail closed, Berliners were eager to shop again. But in a matter of weeks they have been opening private test points on practically every street in the city. It is a lucrative business: the Land pays these operators 18 euros per test carried out. These tests in many cases are, as this newspaper has verified by visiting five centers, the same ones that are sold in supermarkets for between four and five euros per unit. Bought in bulk they are even cheaper. That is why practically every empty premises or premises capable of being transformed is now a testing point for covid-19: beauty salons, tanning centers, tattoo salons, gambling establishments … There are also mobiles in streets or parks: vans, bicycles or a simple tent with camping tables and chairs like the one that has been set up in the Alexanderplatz shopping area. This Monday Berlin already had 1,296 authorized test points.
Anyone – a hairdresser, a shoe store clerk – can offer free citizen tests: in many regions an online course on how to take the sample is enough. It is not necessary for healthcare personnel to do so. And the controls are practically non-existent because the centers do not send anywhere the name or identification of the person tested. With these wickers, the picaresque has quickly emerged. An investigation by three German media (WDR, NDR and Southgerman newspaper) revealed a few days ago that in North Rhine-Westphalia a company had been invoicing thousands of tests that it had not actually done. For one day, journalists monitored various points, such as the MediCan bus located in a neighborhood in Cologne. There they counted 80 people taking the test, but that day the company reported 977 tests performed. They verified the same modus operandi in several other centers. The Bochum Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the alleged scam. Regional media have reported similar investigations in Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony-Anhalt.
Criticism of the Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, has multiplied these days. “As a customer, the federal government is obliged to ensure adequate control of the tests,” said the manager of the Association of Cities and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg. Spahn announced on Monday that he will reinforce controls after holding a telematic meeting with the heads of Health of the Länder. He also assured that he wants to lower the price paid by the State for testing to 10 euros or less. The Government ensures that the supervision of the centers corresponds to the local health authorities, but they claim to be overwhelmed.
In addition to the fraud, which can be a millionaire – an anonymous source told ARD public television that between 50 and 60 million tests will be billed only in May, that is, about a billion euros – there are concerns about the way in which the tests are made. test. There are places without ventilation and that do not meet the requirement of having an entrance and an exit route, as this newspaper has verified. It also happens that the test result reaches the mobile phone of the person concerned before the 15 minutes in which the reaction is supposed to occur in the test cartridge. There are centers that do not send anything by email. They simply hand in a piece of paper, of which there is no record.
“A scam is a scam,” Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday, saying that all suspected cases of crime will be investigated. Some Länder have announced that they will intensify random checks on these centers and there are already known cases of closures of premises after inspections.
Germany already has the third wave of the coronavirus practically under control. The cumulative incidence at seven days is 34.1 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and States like Berlin are going to take another step in the de-escalation. As of this Friday, in the capital the negative test will no longer be necessary to sit on the terraces or enter the stores. It will also open the interior of bars and restaurants for the first time since November, but in that case it will still be necessary to present a test or proof of being vaccinated or having passed the disease. The norms of social contacts are also relaxed by allowing up to six people from three different households to get together indoors.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.