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Testing for SARS-CoV-2

Direct detection of SARS-CoV-2 is done by smears from mouth, nose or throat. The viral genome is detected by a sensitive molecular test, the “Real-time Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction” (RT-PCR). This verification procedure is extremely accurate. In principle, a single copy of the virus is enough to render the test positive. The method multiplies the few gene copies within the sample in several cycles. Through the use of fluorescent substances, one can see whether the desired gene sequences of the virus are present or not. The basic laboratory procedures take between four and five hours. The entire process lasts longer: it takes a total of 24 to 48 hours from sampling to the available results (depending on the workload of the laboratory, a result can be available already after 5 or even after 72 hours after receipt in the laboratory).
The corona tests attempt to detect certain areas of viral RNA, usually two or more specific genes. If these are found in the sample, the test is positive. The more gene segments are examined, the more precise is the test. Like other viruses, coronaviruses mutate and can change their RNA sections. Therefore ist safer to test for several gene segments, However, it has been found that the new corona virus does not change as quickly as, for example, the usual flu viruses. At the beginning of the outbreak, it was shown in China that smears from the lower airways led to negative results, even though the test subjects were already ill. In the early phase of the infection, the samples should therefore be taken from the upper airways, i.e. the throat or nasal cavity. Enough material has to be collected, a short touch with the cotton swab is not enough.
When is a smear necessary before a trip?
Many countries require proof of a negative corona test for entry. This way, quarantine can be avoided. Before leaving, you should inquire whether this requirement applies to your travel destination. Also, some airlines and some hotels require a corona-free certificate. As a rule, the test certificate should not be older than 72 hours, sometimes only 48 hours. We date our certificates when the test result is available and the certificate can be sent.

When do I have to quarantine after my return?

You must be in quarantine if you have been in a risk area as defined by the Robert Koch Institute within 14 days of your return to Germany. The current list of international risk areas can be found on the RKI website. Quarantine requirements are determined at the day of your return to Germany. Therfore, quarantine rules also apply if the country was put on the list during your travel. This is particularly important for round trips. Quarantine can be shortened by submitting a negative corona test.

What does quarantine mean?

Quarantine means that you have to stay at home or at another suitable accommodation (e.g. holiday apartment) for 14 days after your arrival. The exact quarantine regulations depend on the respective state. As a rule, you are not allowed to leave your accommodation or receive a visit during this period. You are also required to contact the local health department and announce your entry.

Are there any exceptions to the quarantine requirements?

Entry after corona test

Probably the easiest way to avoid quarantine at the moment is to get tested for Covid-19 before entering the country. Anyone who can demonstrate a molecular test (PCR test) from an accredited laboratory that was carried out 48-72 hours before arrival is exempt from all quarantine regulations. In addition, after returning to Germany, a test can also be carried out, which then releases you from the quarantine obligation as soon as a negative result is available.

Country-specific exceptions

Quarantine regulations in Germany are issued by the federal states. Therefore, there are 16 different regulations. Although these are harmonized, they are not necessarily identical. At times, for example, when returning from Sweden, you had to be quarantined in Bavaria, but not in North Rhine-Westphalia. There are further exceptions to the quarantine requirement for certain groups of travelers, such as business travelers, medical staff and travelers who only stayed abroad for a short period. However, tourist trips to high-risk areas are not included.

What is a travel warning?

A travel warning is an urgent appeal by the Foreign Office to refrain from traveling to a country or parts of a country. It is only announced if there is an acute danger to life and health of travelers in the destination country. In the event of a travel warning, German citizens in the affected area are also requested to leave the country and, if necessary, be evacuated. If the risk is lower, only a travel or safety notice is given. Overall, such warnings are relatively rare. Before the corona crisis, travel warnings were issued primarily for countries in which foreigners have to fear for their lives through war and violence, such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.
It is not entirely clear whether the Federal Foreign Office adheres to its own definition of terms in the corona crisis. There is currently a Covid 19 travel warning for most countries outside Europe, including those with very low case numbers. It is difficult to understand why there is an acute danger to life and health in countries with good health systems and low infection rates such as New Zealand and Taiwan. Rather, the motivation behind the warning seems to be to prevent Germans from stranding abroad should borders be closed again if case numbers increase. Another reason may be to undercut the spread of the virus through unnecessary travel.

Can I travel to a country with a travel warning?

Of course. A travel warning is only a warning, but not a travel ban. There is no risk of a penalty if you do not follow a travel warning. This was also clarified by the responsible minister. In principle, the state can only restrict citizens' freedom of travel if the planned trips “endanger the internal or external security (…) of the Federal Republic”. In this case, however, passports of those wishing to travel must actively be confiscated by the authorities. No case is known in which this has happened due to the corona virus.

Am I insured if I travel despite a travel warning?

Travel warnings are usually well-considered and issued with good reason. They are issued by experts in the Federal Foreign Office and the German diplomatic missions and offer a good orientation for the security situation in a country. Most travel insurance policies exclude insurance coverage for destinations with travel warnings. The decisive factor is whether there is a travel warning on entry. This usually means: You are not insured on trips to areas for which there is a travel warning from the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany at the time of your entry. If you are already on site when a travel warning is announced, the insurance cover ends 14 days after the travel warning was announced. If you cannot end the trip for reasons for which you are not responsible, you are insured beyond this period.

The Berlin Centre for Travel & Tropical Medicine is a labelling of the practise of Prof. Dr. Jelinek at the various locations of the travel clinics. The treatment contract is solely concluded with Prof. Dr. Jelinek.