Germany will once again offer free Covid tests to all adults in the country, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday, a move intended to help catch infections earlier as case numbers continue to reach record highs.
The country had spent billions of dollars offering at least one free antigen test per resident each week since March, but then ended the policy last month in the hope that making people pay for tests would lead them to get vaccinated.
Now, German leaders are scrambling to act as case numbers spiral upward. On Thursday — after a week in which new case numbers had set records four times — health officials recorded 48,640 new infections, a slight drop from Wednesday’s number.
The health minister’s hourlong news conference appeared to be an attempt to show national leadership in what is increasingly seen as a countrywide crisis. Mr. Spahn even suggested that Covid tests could ultimately be required, even for vaccinated people, for entry to certain venues and events.
But not everyone seems concerned about the spike in numbers.
On Thursday, tens of thousands of revelers gathered in Cologne for the start of carnival season. Although the designated party spots were restricted to attendees able to prove that they had been vaccinated or had recovered from Covid, controls were lax and impromptu parties sprung up outside those zones.
A musician playing at the festivities warned partygoers not to kiss strangers this year, a reference to a custom of carnival celebrations.
“Maybe this year just snog your partner! Otherwise we won’t get through the season,” said the musician, Peter Brings. “And next year we can all make out with each other again.”
On Friday morning, the Robert Koch Institute, the German authority that tracks the pandemic, released a new set of guidelines suggesting, among other things, that large gatherings be canceled.