As Germans return from holiday destinations like Spain and Italy this summer, concerns are growing that they could bring the coronavirus back with them, causing fresh outbreaks in Germany.
Unlike the UK, where the government this weekend imposed a two-week quarantine on those returning from Spain, the German government is mulling a different approach — compulsory coronavirus testing in airports for arrivals from high-risk destinations.
German health minister Jens Spahn told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that the government was currently looking into whether it could legally oblige people to take coronavirus tests, or whether that would encroach on their personal freedoms.
Germany acted swiftly in March this year, when the pandemic first took hold in the country, shutting its neighbouring borders, imposing lockdowns on social and commercial life, and performing mass testing. The result was a much lower death toll than the UK, Spain, Italy, and France.
However, fresh outbreaks in a number of places, including among workers at meat-processing plants, have forced some localised lockdowns, and created fears of a second wave of the virus.
On Friday (24 July), Germany reported a surge of 815 new cases, and another 781 on Saturday (25 July), the highest daily new-case numbers since the middle of May.
“We need mandatory testing at airports and we need it as soon as possible,” Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder said at a press conference on Monday. “We’re preparing everything so that when the federal government gives us the legal basis we can press the start button immediately.”
Frankfurt and Munich airports have already set up coronavirus testing stations, offering voluntary tests to those passing through the airports.
Last week, Germany said voluntary tests would be free of charge for people returning from other countries.
The British government said it is keeping an eye on the number of new cases in Germany and France, and has has not ruled out imposing quarantine on people returning from these two countries, as it has done with Spain.
“We have to keep the situation under review, and I think that is what the public would expect us to do,” junior health minister Helen Whately told Sky News. “If we see rates going up in a country where at the moment there is no need to quarantine… we would have to take action because we cannot take the risk of coronavirus being spread again across the UK.”
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