As there is debate across the country over whether more stringent measures are needed to curb the rise in infections, the historic university town near Stuttgart has taken a different tack by offering free coronavirus testing centers that provide “daily passes” to those whose results are negative.
The passes then allow access to what is currently one of Germany’s most vibrant urban centers.
“Customers’ eyes light up when they come in, it’s finally a little normal again,” said Sandra Pauli, who was allowed to reopen her home decor store about two weeks ago. “Everyone is very happy.”
The usual rules about wearing masks and physical distancing still apply, said Pauli, who believes the rapid testing scheme “is the only way to live with the coronavirus” while keeping major stores afloat and welcoming people to theaters and museums.
The rest of Germany is closely watching the Tübingen model, and a number of cities and towns are planning similar experiments.
Not without controversy
The central city of Weimar has already opened shops and museums for those with a negative test.
The tiny state of Saarland is going even further and wants to end its closure on April 6, using a combination of rapid antigen testing and hygiene precautions to open open-air cinemas, gyms and restaurants.
But the trend is not without controversy at a time when scientists warn that newer and more contagious virus variants could send Germany’s case burden skyrocketing in the coming weeks.
Among the loudest critics is Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in a rare live television interview on Sunday urged regional leaders to stick to the limits agreed by Covid.
“I don’t know if testing and shopping is the correct answer to what is happening at the moment,” said the veteran leader, noting that even in Tùbingen the infection rate was increasing despite thousands of tests.
Merkel and the prime ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states agreed in early March to pull the “emergency brake” and impose new restrictions if a region suffered more than 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants during a seven-day period, as is the case. currently in most cases. from the country.
But many regional leaders have been reluctant to return to tougher closures.
A woman who underwent a rapid test in Tübingen in March. Photo DPA
Limits on tourists
Outside Tübingen’s picturesque town hall, in a square lined by colorful half-timbered buildings, people have been queuing since early in the morning to have their nostrils cleaned at one of several test sites in the city.
Nearly 50,000 tests have been carried out in a two-week period, according to Dr. Lisa Federle, one of the driving forces behind the project, which is being overseen by the University of Tübingen.
“We have enough evidence,” Federle said, adding that “we have to do something because people no longer accept” the restrictions.
“I think it is much safer to meet outside after taking the test than to meet people at home,” he told AFP.
Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer of the left-wing Green Party said the project had given hope to business owners who were feeling increasingly desperate.
Although the district’s incidence rate has risen from 41 on March 15 to 98 on Monday, he said the increase was “not faster than in other parts of the country.”
But the city of 90,000 is at risk of becoming a victim of its own success, with intense media attention attracting a wave of hikers from all over Germany.
The influx has led local authorities to limit the number of tourists who are allowed to benefit from the day pass program.
Rene, 36, and his girlfriend drove 100 kilometers (60 miles) to celebrate his birthday in Tübingen.
“Now we are going to eat well,” he said. “We just wanted to do something special.”
The plan is scheduled to run until April 18, and Federle believes it is already a success.
“People can see that we are not only closing, but we are also trying to find another way.”
By Yann Schreiber
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism