Who is the capital a model

Germany discovers the "Tübingen model" - is that the way to freedom?

“Testing instead of lockdown” is the crisis formula that business, sport and culture are now favoring. There is also increasing talk of the “Tübingen example” in this country. But there is one problem above all when trying to roll out large test projects.

© WELT / Christoph Hipp In so-called model communities, the restrictions in individual areas are relaxed with strict protective measures and test concepts. After Tübingen, Rostock and Münster, Höxter in North Rhine-Westphalia is now also joining. Source: WELT / Christoph Hipp

So this is how it should look - the new normal for large events. What happens on Wednesday at the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin comes close to what the federal and state governments understand by “consistent test regime”.

The 800 spectators who are allowed to watch the play-off semi-finals for the German volleyball championship must go through the following procedure: After registering online, there is a quick test in the arena, after which there is a ribbon with a QR code at the entrance is scanned. The “Doctorbox” app reports the result, and anyone who is negative is allowed in.

You don't have to be an event manager to realize that a lot has been invested here. From a purely economic point of view, the cost of personnel, organization and material should be disproportionate to the income from the 800 tickets sold.

© REUTERS Very good mood: 800 spectators were allowed to watch the play-off semi-finals for the German volleyball championship in Berlin's Max-Schmeling-Halle Source: REUTERS

In addition: the fixed costs for the hall are those of a normal operating day - the utilization is not even seven percent, because the building actually has almost 12,000 spaces. Especially since the organizers are taking the risk anyway: The game in front of spectators was on the brink until the very end. Because if the capital had exceeded the incidence of 100 for more than three days in a row, the concept would have been cashed in.

Nevertheless, such concepts are a great hope for the event industry, sport and culture. Possible strategies were discussed in Germany for months. Although the first rapid tests came onto the market a year ago, instead of creating incentives for mass production at an early stage, politicians and experts in this country long warned of the supposed disadvantages and “false security”. While preventive mass tests have long been established in Austria and other countries, Germany now also wants to follow suit.

Now the broad and preventive testing of the population is finally starting - not only for epidemiological benefit, but also to enable “openings”. An important factor is the price. Because while private providers often charge 60 euros and more for a smear around Christmas time, the rapid tests should now be free for everyone.

© AFP Vorbild Tübingen: Shops, theaters and restaurants are open - if you want to get in, you can do so with proof of a negative test

Test centers in Berlin are about to close

In addition, more and more self-tests are coming onto the market that no longer require medical personnel. But because approval takes a long time and is bureaucratic, there are still too few of them - they should primarily be used in schools and daycare centers. The economy therefore relies above all on concepts with a smear test at stationary test sites.

And their operation is expensive: so expensive that some test centers are about to close again because they cannot finance themselves. For example in Berlin: The private operators, who are often entrepreneurs from the event industry, have to wait until mid-May for the state to pay the costs, according to “Tagesspiegel” - this is not economically feasible.

Nationwide, the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians takes over the reimbursement, the centers receive twelve euros per smear and six euros for each test. The delay has so far been limited to Berlin - but the cases show the shaky legs on which the concept of “opening with tests” has so far been.

So that even more test sites do not become an economic failure, it seems clear: Better security and commitments from the municipalities are needed. But setup, operation and scaling should also be well planned. The fixed costs can only be amortized with the greatest possible number of tests, says Marc Kloepfel.

With his company “Kloepfel Consulting”, the management consultant helped in the procurement of masks as early as 2020 - now, through a joint venture, he operates dozens of mobile and stationary test centers throughout Germany. A center that only makes a few cuts an hour should therefore not stand for long - unless it is artificially kept alive.

Individual cities are now demonstrating what may not succeed nationwide - with these in turn serving as a "model project". In Austria, a considerable part of the general population has been regularly tested for weeks, the rule is: "Testing instead of lockdown".

Tübingen: testing instead of lockdown

In Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, they try the same: There, the emergency doctor Lisa Federle and the mayor Boris Palmer (Greens) started a comprehensive test machine: Shops, theaters and restaurants are open - if you want to go in, you can do so with proof of one negative tests, the printed “day pass”. As in Berlin, this will now be replaced by a bracelet with a QR code.

The Swabian university city is investing hundreds of thousands of euros in the project - and that could prove to be a good investment. Many businesses that have been closed for months are threatened with bankruptcy, but now customers are bringing money back into the cash register.

“What is done in Tübingen could be done nationwide,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Her potential successor Armin Laschet was even cheered: “We need Tübingen everywhere,” he chanted a little later.

A handful of cities are currently attempting “temporary model projects to open up individual areas of public life under strict protective measures and a test concept”. These include Goslar, Kiel and Rostock - the Saarland is to follow after Easter. However, the vast majority of municipalities are still a long way off - even in Laschet's federal state.

In Tübingen's neighboring district, on the other hand, they already have a similar strategy. The Swabian town of Böblingen is making millions out of its budget to finance its test centers. Months ago, the pharmacist Björn Schittenhelm started test stations affiliated with pharmacies, in which the residents of the district can have themselves swabbed twice a week free of charge.

The documentation also runs here via the Doctorbox, so there are no long queues or a mess of papers. The responsible district administrator decided early on to assume the costs - later other cities followed the “Böblingen model”.

As cleverly as the name may be, the procedure is tearing a hole in the budget for the district - and yet, looking ahead, the investment could be worthwhile if the alternative were a permanent lockdown.

In the most recent decision of the federal-state conference it is emphasized once again: Any openings are associated with tests, they should be "significantly expanded". If the vaccination continues to run as slowly as before, the model of “access to the restaurant only against test result” could soon set a precedent everywhere - and continue to exist for several months.

In this case, apps like Doctorbox make sense. The analogous organization of the mass tests has two major disadvantages: It causes a time-consuming mess of papers for the evidence - and long queues in front of the test sites.

The Dresden app “pass4all” has also been able to transmit and display test results digitally for a long time; it should also function as a day pass. The developers noticed very late that this simple function could also be offered by the federal government's corona warning app, which at least 26 million people use: a corresponding feature will only be programmed in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, following the laws of the market, the price for rapid tests is developing. Just four months ago, unit prices of ten euros and more were not uncommon. Due to the wide availability and higher production capacity, the prices have now fallen - to currently between 2.50 and 3.50 euros per test, as Marc Kloepfel says. “There are currently challenges with delivery times,” he reports.

If the federal government were to set up central procurement - experts have been calling for this for months - the prices could be lowered, believes Kloepfel: to 1.50 to 2.00 euros per rapid antigen test. Even the self-tests, of which too few are on the market, could be procured cheaper: between 2.50 and 3.50 euros instead of the previous five euros.

Most of the costs are likely to be incurred for personnel and material - but the prices for both test variants will continue to fall, centers could work with more security, taxpayers relieved, and the credo “Tübingen everywhere” at least a little more realistic.

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