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US military communities will soon be able to get free coronavirus tests through German Red Cross

A woman fills in a form as another checks in at the desk at the German Red Cross coronavirus test center in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on April 26, 2021. Germans and permanent residents are allowed one free test per week, but Americans living in Germany under the Status of Forces Agreement have been charged up to 39 euros per test until now.

KARIN ZEITVOGEL/STARS AND STRIPES

By KARIN ZEITVOGEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 26, 2021

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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — American troops and civilians living in Germany under the Status of Forces Agreement will soon be able to get coronavirus tests for free at German Red Cross test centers, an official said Monday.

“We have a verbal agreement with the federal health ministry that everyone who lives in Germany, including U.S. troops, will be eligible for our free ‘testing for all’ program,” Marco Woltermann, the director of the German Red Cross’ Kaiserslautern operations, told Stars and Stripes.

“That means everyone will be treated the same — no one will have to wait anymore, and we’ll no longer have a situation where one person is asked to pay while another isn’t. We’re waiting for written confirmation but we’re moving ahead as if it will happen,” he said.

Americans living in Germany under the SOFA have been asked to pay between 20 and 39 euros — the equivalent of $25-$47 — at some test centers. The German Red Cross charges 39 euros for a rapid test, which is also valid for travel to the U.S.

Germans and permanent residents can get one rapid test free per week.

Quick tests and appointments have been required since last week for people who want to shop for nonessential items such as clothing or electronics in cities and districts where there have been 150 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants for at least three days in a row. The requirements are part of the new nationwide “emergency brake” rules, which also include travel restrictions and a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The incidence rate for new infections in the city of Kaiserslautern — which is home to thousands of Americans, most of whom have SOFA status – was over 160 per 100,000 on Monday, according to Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute.

In the district, which includes Landstuhl and Ramstein Air Base, it was just over 100 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Americans in all German states with U.S. military communities will be eligible for free weekly tests once the German Red Cross has in writing that the federal health ministry has accepted the deal, Woltermann said, adding that the rule could be in place by next week.

“We just need confirmation in writing to make it official but we’d love it if more troops and other Americans came to us to be tested,” he said at the new Red Cross building in downtown Kaiserslautern.

Tests are already free for “basically anyone who wants one, including Americans” at one of the pop-up test centers run by drugstore chain DM, spokeswoman Mia Steinweg said.

“When you register online for an appointment (https://www.dm.de/services/services-im-markt/corona-schnelltest-zentren-613504#termin), you will get a QR code,” she said. “You need your QR code and ID card when you show up at the test center. After the test, you have to wait for 20 minutes for the result. The tests are free for anybody.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this report.

zeitvogel.karin@stripes.com
Twitter: @StripesZeit