L.There was a gold rush atmosphere among the operators of the corona test centers. The companies initially received up to 21 euros from the federal government for each test. There was good money to be made with it, the queues in front of the shops that many young entrepreneurs rented were long, their coffers full. But with the increasing vaccination rate, the business model is coming under pressure. In addition, the federal government lowered the price per test in July to 11.50 euros. At the Prime Minister’s Conference on Tuesday, the federal and state governments have now decided that those willing to take the test will have to pay again for the previously free citizen test from October 11, 2021. Is that the nail in the coffin for the test centers that were so successful just a few weeks ago?
“With the decision, of course, significantly fewer people will do tests,” says Martin von der Hocht, managing director of the test center operator Coronapoint. The company operates almost 30 test centers, particularly in North Rhine-Westphalia. Hardly anyone will spend 15 or 20 euros on a test and then invest the same amount in a cinema or restaurant visit, says von der Hocht. He and many other operators have not yet determined what price people will have to pay for a test in the future.
How are you supposed to check if someone is pregnant?
It is also unclear how the test center operators should review the planned exemption regulations. Because: According to the decision, people who “cannot be vaccinated and for whom there is no general vaccination recommendation” should continue to have the option of a free rapid antigen test. This includes in particular pregnant women, children and young people under 18 years of age. With the latter, the control of presenting an identity card is still quite easy. “But we can’t do pregnancy tests on site,” says von der Hocht.
His competitor Christoph Neumeier, managing director of the test center operator CoviMedical, “doesn’t yet know how all of this should work”. It is unclear how to control who gets a free test. The company tests in 200 shops all over Germany and on the Balearic Islands. One possibility could be medical certificates that pregnant women would have to present before a test. “For example, we could store a digital photo of the certificate in our system in compliance with data protection regulations,” explains Simon Heckscher, managing director of 21Dx, one of the largest test center operators in Germany.
When asked, the Federal Ministry of Health announced that the test ordinance would have to be adjusted after the decision of the Prime Minister’s Conference. How exactly the control mechanisms should look like cannot yet be answered in concrete terms.
Test centers in the country could close
Especially for small test centers with only one employee in some cases, the additional administrative effort could mean the end, fears von der Hocht. “They will all have to close.” That could particularly affect the test stations in the countryside, believes Christoph Neumeier. Simon Heckscher from 21Dx also says: “We will probably have to ask ourselves the question of the profitability of individual locations.”
Large operators like 21Dx, however, have one advantage: They have built up several pillars. 21Dx, for example, also offers mobile vaccination teams or tests guests at events and conferences on behalf of companies. “We will therefore notice the end of the free tests, but it does not endanger our existence,” says Heckscher. The economic situation for the operators of the test centers is tense anyway. Because of the lower remuneration per test, the increasing quality requirements and stricter controls as a result of uncovered frauds, many lone fighters and smaller providers have given up. “For us this is currently only economical because we are relatively large. It is no longer worthwhile for smaller operators, ”says von der Hocht.
People’s demand is currently increasing again, driven by the rising incidence and the holiday season. But there are fewer test centers. Von der Hocht reported long queues. He has problems finding enough employees. After October 11th, demand could collapse suddenly – and the test center operators would face the opposite problem. “That will lead to the test centers becoming extinct.” This will probably not affect everyone: Many test centers are not operated by private providers, but by medical practices, pharmacies and the German Red Cross. You are less at risk of having to close if your income falls.
Christoph Neumeier still believes that politics will backtrack. “You can’t just open everything without testing,” he says. In addition, the new exemption regulations remind him of the beginning of the citizen tests, when each citizen was actually only allowed to take one free test per week. Nobody could control that at the time, for reasons of data protection. After the federal elections, they’ll turn around, he says. And if not? “We hope that many from the test centers will then at least be able to work in their normal jobs again.” Before the pandemic, Neumeier worked like many others in the event industry.