The business with rapid corona tests: Welcome to the gold mine

Hanover. He descends to the test, passing the “Corona Test Center” poster, which only partially covers the graffiti on the back wall. Below, a sparse white room, a switch at the entrance, rooms separated by curtains, and a chair in them. There is a paper tip box at the exit, with a felt-tip pen saying “dirty job but someone has to do it” – “dirty job but someone has to do it”.

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They look so spectacular gold mines at the end of the second year of Corona.

The test center on Limmerstraße in the Hanover district of Linden is one of over 100 that Covimedical, one of the largest in the country with over 1,000 employees, currently operates between Usedom and the Black Forest, Juist and Freising. According to Covimedical, up to 90,000 people per day can be tested here, which makes it relatively easy to calculate the maximum turnover in this industry: the federal government reimburses € 11.50 for each so-called citizenship test. It makes over a million euros in sales, ideally. For day.

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The main measures

You don’t need a lot of basic hardware to take part in the multi-million dollar rapid test business. All you need is a few corrugated cardboard boxes, an empty shop or, as in Limmerstraße, an unused cellar under an old cinema. The training time is also manageable: it is two hours. This is how long training takes, also online if you want. Is it that simple?

Testing as much as possible is one of the most important tools in fighting a pandemic. After a brief phase of turmoil, which can be dated from October 11 to November 11, politicians have long recognized this. Since then, the federal government has been paying for rapid tests again. At the same time, countries with 3G, and even more so with the 2G-plus rules, which also require testing of vaccinated and recovered people, caused a boom and demand that was not to be expected in the meantime. For example, Covimedical has seen a 1,000 percent increase in the past few weeks.

For citizens, mandatory tests and examination centers are primarily a burden. make an appointment. Often there are still lines. Trust that a person with a spatula has mastered their craft. Wait.

For operators, the business with tests is, above all, a great promise. According to a statement from the Federal Social Insurance Agency, the federal government has so far donated around 4.5 billion euros for citizenship tests.

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A large number of PCR tests: Laboratories are reaching their limits

There are simply too many people infected: laboratories and health authorities are closing in on their borders. It also causes problems for the RKI when assessing the corona situation.

business and impertinence

At the same time, this business is impertinent. A year ago, at the start, happily greeted by politicians. Then, after individual cases of abuse in the spring, it is put under general suspicion. In October, with the completion of free trials, de facto was deprived of the basis of operation. Just a month later, after one of the fastest waves of pandemic politics, politicians and citizens expect that with the launch of the 2G-plus and 3G models, the strength of the company will immediately be at your feet again.

It’s funny, Mr. Neumeier, isn’t it? “Local people rely on us and trust us to build these capacities,” he says. “But no one in politics talks to us.”

Christoph Neumeier, founder of Covimedical, is 31 years old and lives in Dillenburg, Hesse. Until the beginning of 2020, his professional life was as follows: organizing performances of famous DJs, booking clubs, arranging flights. His relationship with the medical business was mainly due to the fact that his girlfriend was studying medicine.

“Back and forth is at the expense of quality”: Christoph Neumeier, founder of Covimedical.

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But if you listen to it, it was the best preparation for your career as an exam center operator in Germany. It had to be spontaneous. Willing to improvise. He also knew many people all over Germany who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Neumeier started with friends in five cities before the federal health minister launched a special economic incentive program with free tests. His own industry, concerts and parties in clubs and halls, mass events in tight spaces, were the epitome of what the virus now prevented. Neumeier has now embarked on a new career in the field that has opened up the same Sars-CoV-2. During the peak summer season, he operated over 200 test centers, 80 of them in the Balearic Islands. Neumeier tested in Formula 1, Legoland and Europapark Rust. And when the federal president asked for a public festival, he also tested there. Over 2,000 people gave Covimedical a job.

planning impossible

Thanks to his company, he has achieved growth that at other times would likely have earned him all the available rewards for startups. Instead, there was a pandemic kick to the butt in the fall: the fact that everyone should pay for the tests themselves emptied the centers again. Neumeier had no choice but to send the rows of workers home, shutting down three-quarters of the testing centers – to reopen them now if possible.

His working days are “on the verge,” he says, even if you don’t look at him, toughened at night, exhausted. He finds government repeating tests as annoying as amateur “at the expense of quality.” You can’t just push a button and it opens all over the country, ‘he complains. “It’s a big problem that they didn’t come up with an overall strategy.” One that would enable long-term planning. Already in August, he was able to predict from the results that vaccination alone did not provide long-term protection.

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“Can you get rich from it? Not”

But big sums are a reasonable compensation? Neumeier is referring to the millions of tests they have to order on suspicion to avoid the bottlenecks that currently plague some operators. And for doctors and documentation, they also have to pay for tests and PCR requirements.

“Can you make money on it? Yes, says Neumeier. “Can you get rich from it? No, he insists.

The industry’s dubious reputation, however, comes from the times when it seemed possible. In spring, operators were paid € 18 for each test – and they didn’t even have to fear a check. The regulation was synonymous with an invitation to fraud: Only one Bochum-based company is said to have billed almost a million tests too many, the process has only just begun.

As a consequence, the federal government cut the reimbursement to 11.50 euros and introduced controls: health authorities should now supervise the centers themselves, and statutory health insurance (KV) physicians’ associations should check bills. And they find what they are looking for: for example, the Ministry of Health in Munich has so far canceled an order from 15 operators with a total of 40 test sites, the authority explains at the request of RND. The inspectors closed three sites – because of “serious hygiene violations”, “misuse of the test” or because the results came out before the test was performed.

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In the past two weeks alone, Stuttgart has closed four of the 16 test stations it inspected. Berlin has 46 conspicuous bills for September, Saarland ten, Lower Saxony for November 155. By no means are there always bad intentions behind them. “A lot of operators clearly have trouble filling in the forms correctly,” says the person from KV.

Quality is a matter of luck

For the Tübingen physician, pandemic officer and DRC president, Lisa Federle, these are all other reasons to call for a reform of the research concept. She is one of the pioneers of wide-ranging rapid tests in this country, with the doctor’s telephone offering them free of charge on a donation basis before becoming a nationwide program – the basis of the “Tübingen model”.

It’s important and necessary to test a lot, he still says – but if possible by medical staff. “It can’t be that every craftsman is opening something like this now,” he says. Quality is often a matter of luck and often unprofessional. Reimbursement is still too high and sets bad incentives: thinks 8 euros is enough. “It’s time to come up with a good strategy very quickly,” he says – and agrees with Covimedical founder Christoph Neumeier on that point.

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“Testing will stay with us for a long time,” he predicts. It is even more important not to expose centers and their operators to new unknowns. In any case, he sees himself more as a service provider for the event industry where he feels at home. “It would be nice,” he says, “if we could help with our work to enable us to open up in other areas again.”

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