Germany’s Efficient Covid-19 Testing is Causing a Supply Shortage

Since a vaccine still does not exist, quick and reliable testing remains the best approach to fight the spread of Covid-19. In addition to Taiwan and Japan, Germany is currently one of the countries that is coping most efficiently with the crisis. Germany has a significantly lower mortality rate than the rest of Europe with 92,000 infections and 1,300 deaths. For Germany to overcome the crisis testing is vital, which is why the country’s laboratories work an excessive amount of hours, testing an average of 50,000 people daily up to this point.

Berlin, We Have a Problem

However, Germany now has a new problem: its efficiency in testing is now putting an increased strain on test suppliers.

In total, almost one million people had been tested by the end of last month — 350,000 of them in the previous week alone. A significant number of tests didn’t stop the spread of Covid-19 but it did allow for the virus to be managed better than in other European countries. Besides the testing, Germany continuous to benefit from one of the world’s best health systems and one that provides the highest rates of hospital beds in relation to population size across the continent.

Due to its comprehensive testing, Germany may have the best overview of the actual number of people infected. However, even this data is currently far from capturing the full extent of the pandemic, as experts at the German Robert Koch Institute repeatedly emphasize. Accordingly, significantly higher numbers must be expected than those currently being recognized.

Germany 300% Ahead of UK on Covid-19 Testing

In fact, Germany is currently testing around three times as many people as the UK, where the government has now had to accept allegations that the country has made testing available to the laboratories more slowly than other countries in Europe.

Germany’s success is only made possible by at least some laboratories in Germany that work around the clock so that as many people as possible can be tested for the virus. SARS CoV-2 samples are checked in many of the 97 nationwide laboratories 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the Accredited Laboratories in Medicine (ALM). The Robert Koch Institute has even confirmed that by mid-March, more than 170 different laboratories across Germany had conducted tests for Covid-19.

The Increasing Risk of Test Component Shortages

Although the tests have a positive effect, there is currently a risk that even more critical manufacturing issues could arise from the increased efforts. It is already becoming known that a shortage of working materials is causing difficulties for the laboratories. Material procurement is becoming an increasing problem, as a spokesman for the professional association of German laboratory doctors (BDL) said in a recent TV interview. Among other things, the chemicals required for the tests and the removal sets are expected to become increasingly scarce as the pandemic continues.

In addition, the economy does not comply with the production of test tubes, as various German laboratories have already stated. Weekly replenishment of supplies are delivered, but not always sufficient. With testing being increased by the week, manufacturers will soon reach their limit, while consumables such as swabs and plastic plates have already become scarce.

Due to the shortage, the Robert Koch Institute has introduced criteria to have the laboratories prioritize according to medical needs. Accordingly, the existing test capacities ought to currently be reserved for medical personnel, security organs, and other particularly vulnerable people, such as high-risk groups among patients. Urgent suspected cases — such as hospital staff, firefighters, or intensive care patients — are therefore the first priority. The test results are usually available in German laboratories after 24 hours.

Questions as to how the German medical testing industry will avoid succumbing to shortages while keeping up high testing capacity and speed will increase over these next weeks as the virus rages on.