Do you have a dry cough and/or sore throat accompanied with chills and a fever? Does your head hurt and your body ache? Maybe you even have difficulty breathing? Or perhaps you just found out one of your friends or colleagues tested positive for corona? If you’re experiencing any of this right now, you’re probably and understandably worried you may have caught the virus. And since coronavirus symptoms are ranging from light-cold to flu-like manifestations, it’s pretty much impossible to tell without an actual lab test. But in Berlin – like in the rest of Germany, it’s not easy to get tested.
The app, and testing criteria
In fact, Germany – like France, Italy and the UK – hasn’t opted for mass-testing to combat the virus. In Berlin, there are currently capacities to test 2000 people per day (excluding weekends), and until last Sunday (March 15) only 9253 tests had actually been carried out – that’s about 0.2 percent of the city’s population. So don’t bother running to one of the test centres spread across the city – they will send you back unless you meet specific criteria.
One way to know if you meet the criteria, is the Charité app that assesses your symptoms as well as other factors – such as your living situation, job, recent travel log, pre-existing health concerns and more – and can give you a first indication of what to do. This will range from “Stay at home and get healthy”, to “call your GP” or “Get in touch.” which means to first call the official hotline that might decide to direct you to one of the eight testing centres located in Wedding, Prenzlauer Berg, Charlottenburg, Spandau, Tempelhof, Lichtenberg, Köpenick and Kladow. In any case it will recommend to “keep a distance of at least two meters to other people, not to touch anything and to try to contain your cough or sneeze without affecting others.” – as simple as that.
ACHTUNG! Just don’t show up in a hospital or corona testing centre without getting an appointment first as you will most likely be turned away. The right way to proceed is to call one of the hotlines first.
Not so hot hotlines
The central Berlin hotline 030 90 28 28 28 is technically on duty between 8am and 8pm, but in reality the line is pretty much always busy as hundreds of Berliners try to call in every day. Another option is to call the association of statutory health physicians. Their number 116117 is active between 8am and midnight and the first thing you’ll hear is a long info recording in German. They promise someone will eventually answer your call if you hold the line, which from experience can take up to nine hours!
If all the hotlines are busy, you can also call your borough’s Gesundheitsamt health office (find the number here) or you GP. When we called the Gesundheitsamt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, they explained that unless you’ve been in direct contact with someone infected or to one of the high-risk areas in the last two weeks, there currently is no chance to get a test done. The Robert Koch Institute lists the high-risk areas as follow: Italy, Iran, the Chinese province of Hubei, the South Korean Gyeongsangbuk-do area, the French region Grand Est (which includes Alsace, Lorraine, and Champagne-Ardenne), Tyrol in Austria, the Spanish capital Madrid, US states California, Washington or New York, Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia. If you’re lucky, some of the Amt staff will be able to speak to you in English (Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf has some native speakers on duty).
If you can’t get through to anyone and your condition is acute and worsening, for example if our fever reaches above 40°C and/or have serious difficulty breathing, the last resort is of course to call 112 for an ambulance. It seems that right now, all the city’s medical services are operating at their limits and some patients report horrendous experiences, so be prepared to wait to get to talk to someone and (maybe) get picked up.
The testing procedure
If a doctor or a public health officer decides you need the test, you will be sent to one of the eight testing centres in Berlin. The association of statutory health physicians has a driving service available for anyone with severe symptoms. But for that, you’ll have to get through to someone on their hotline, which requires nerves and luck.
The test itself is a throat swab similar to a flu test. It’s a quick procedure, but it currently takes a few days until the lab results are in – officially up to three days, but reality on the ground speaks for up to five. You’ll be notified over the phone, The swab and lab costs are covered by German health insurance. If you don’t have German insurance, you need to get in touch and find out if yours will pay for the test (which costs €59).
Covid-19 positive? Don’t panic!
If it turns out you actually have contracted the virus, don’t panic. In most cases, symptoms will remain mild — a light cough or slightly raised temperature. So far only a few dozen of infected patients are in intensive care and the one Berliner who has sadly passed away was 95 years old with serious pre-existing health issues. Overall mortality rates are being debated between specialists, but since Europe under-tests, death percentages appear higher than they actually are, as many Covd-19 infected people develop no or mild symptoms and go unaccounted for (the more you test, the higher the numbers of infected population, the lower the mortality ratio). If you’ve tested positive, you will be either hospitalised (serious cases) or asked to confine yourself at home according to the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute.
For the English-language information provided by the Senat Health office, click here.