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Germany Makes Rapid Virus Tests a Key to Everyday Freedoms

“We see that the infection rate here is dropping faster than in other countries who have similar vaccination numbers,” said Prof. Ulf Dittmer, the director of virology at the university hospital in the western city of Essen. “And I think a part of that has to do with widespread testing.”

Almost 23 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated, meaning that they don’t have to present test results. Another 47 percent who have received at least one dose of the vaccine and those unvaccinated still do, even though as of Tuesday, there have been only 20.8 infections per 100,000 people in a week, a number not seen since early October, before a second wave started spreading.

Throughout the pandemic, Germany has been a world leader when it comes to widespread testing. It was one of the first countries to develop a test to detect the coronavirus and relied on testing to help identify and break down chains of infection. By last summer, everyone coming home to Germany from vacation in countries with high rates of infection was being tested.

The current testing has been considered especially important because of the relatively slow start of Germany’s vaccine campaign. The country stuck with the European Union in making vaccine purchases as one unit, and found itself stymied as Brussels faltered in securing shots quickly enough. The United States has fully vaccinated almost twice as large a slice of its population.

Uwe Gottschlich, 51, is one of those who is taking tests to return to a semblance of normalcy. On a recent day, he took a seat in the comfortable rear of a bike taxi that used to pedal tourists around Berlin’s central landmarks.

Karin Schmoll, the manager of the bike taxi company, now retrained to administer tests and wearing a green full-body medical gown, gloves, a mask and a face shield, approached, explained the procedure, and then asked him to remove his mask so she could delicately probe his nostrils with a swab.

“I’m meeting some friends later,” he said. “We’re planning to sit down someplace to have a drink.” Berlin requires a test before drinking indoors, though not outdoors.


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