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Germany: Government Makes COVID-19 Tests Mandatory for People Returning from Risk Areas

(Aug. 10, 2020) On August 8, 2020, a regulation of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health entered into force requiring that people who return to Germany from a country that is considered a “risk area” take a COVID-19 test upon their arrival at the request of the public health department or other competent agency. The request may be made up to 14 days after arrival. The mandatory tests are free of charge. As an alternative, travelers arriving from a risk area may present a negative COVID-19 test certificate from a test taken not more than 48 hours before in a European Union country or another country approved by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s public health institute. The certificate must be in German or English. Travelers who were just passing through a risk area are exempt from the mandatory testing requirement.

Travelers from risk areas are required to report to the public health department in the locality of their residence or destination in Germany without undue delay and provide information on possible COVID-19 symptoms and test results. They must fill out “exit cards” when they arrive by plane, ship, train, or bus, and provide information on symptoms and test results, if available. The exit cards are collected and forwarded to the local health department if no negative test result has been provided. Local agencies check adherence to quarantine requirements on a random basis. If available, travelers are encouraged to take a test at the airport, port, or train terminal.

Furthermore, on August 1, 2020, another regulation entered into force that makes COVID-19 tests available free of charge for 72 hours at the respective public health department or a doctor’s office to anyone who enters Germany from abroad.

As of August 10, 2020, 216,327 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Germany. 9,197 individuals had died and 197,400 people had recovered. Cases had been declining steadily since the middle of March but again began rising in the beginning of July.

Reactions to the New Regulation

Some legal experts have stated that mandatory testing requirements would most likely be covered by the general authorization contained in section 5, paragraph 2 of the Infectious Diseases Act that allows the Federal Ministry of Health to issue “orders” (Anordnungen) that mandate testing or presenting a negative COVID-19 test certificate for people entering Germany from abroad.

Critics on the other hand have pointed out that the competence to issue such orders or adopt regulations cannot be transferred to the Federal Ministry of Health because the execution of the Infectious Diseases Act is constitutionally reserved to the German states. The amendment of the Infectious Diseases Act that authorized the Federal Ministry of Health to issue such orders and regulations was therefore unconstitutional in their opinion.