Private coronation centers: in a protective suit on the dance floor

Christmas to family or alone? Private test centers want to be decision-making aids. They are not interested in free rides.

Rapid tests are also carried out at their own expense on the premises of the KitKat club in Berlin Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa

In the Institute for the Future, music is playing again in the days before Christmas, even if only quietly in the background. In normal times, harder basses would be pumping in the halls in the south of Leipzig: the club is known beyond the city for its techno parties. Now there are distance markings on the floor, and medical personnel in protective suits are busy walking around. The IFZ, which has now had to remain closed for three quarters of a year, has been transformed into a corona fast test center in the days before Christmas.

Standing in front of the entrance on the Tuesday before Christmas is Janne Muller, whose real name is something else. The 27-year-old is actually responsible for the club’s social media work. "How to get a lot of people through these rooms in as orderly a way as possible is something we know," she says. In the background, her walkie-talkie announces, "Test station one and three are free." The team has worked through six days to adapt the room to medical requirements.

Now everything is precisely timed: anyone who wants to be tested needs an appointment, and ten minutes are allotted for this. Latecomers are no longer allowed in. "We definitely didn’t want there to be any congestion here," says Muller. The test station was able to offer 800 appointments, at 35 euros each. They were booked up within a few hours – there hasn’t been an admission freeze at the IFZ for a long time.

At check-in, the appointment is now checked alongside the ID card, then it’s down the stairs. On the former dance floor, construction fences separate three test stations. The fences are sealed with transparent film and covered with black insulating tape; they are intended to provide aerosol and visual protection. The nasal swab takes two minutes, the stick is then dipped into a solution and this is spread on the rapid test. So that those tested do not spend a long time in the room, they receive their result a few minutes later by mail, together with a guide.

The IFZ in Leipzig, which has been closed for 9 months, has been transformed into a corona rapid test center Photo: Thomas Dietze/imago

All voluntary at the IFZ

In many cities, mostly private providers opened rapid testing stations in the days before Christmas. Financing, organization and tests vary – sometimes you need an appointment, sometimes you have to stand in line for hours. Prices vary roughly between euros.

With some providers, agencies take care of the set-up, bureaucracy and recruitment of staff. In return, they often pocket about half of the proceeds. At the IFZ, on the other hand, everyone works on a voluntary basis, including the doctors. For every rapid test sold, the team finances another test for Leipzig’s homeless.

The idea of turning the IFZ into a test center came from Jasmin Mehnert. The 22-year-old actually works at a start-up in Berlin, and a friend had already organized test centers in clubs there and in Hamburg. "I didn’t really have anything to do with IFZ before, except that I spent my nights here," Mehnert says. She put forward her idea, the club team agreed, and together they organized, including the complicated communication with the overburdened health department.

The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians is cautious about blanketly welcoming or rejecting private testing stations. "If you want to take a rapid test at your own expense, you should make sure at a private center that the test is carried out by doctors, at least by trained medical staff," says spokesman Roland Stahl.

Recommendation: Stay at home even if the test is negative

He also points to the lower reliability of rapid tests. This is because, compared to the PCR test, which is sent to the laboratory, rapid tests have a significant error rate. In addition, rapid antigen tests detect infection only in the contagious phase. "First of all, everyone should really check to make sure they don’t just stay home for Christmas," Stahl cautions.

Medical students and female doctors perform the tests at the IFZ. All of them have received training on how to perform the tests beforehand. Doctor Charlotte Fries stands on the dance floor in a protective suit. The 33-year-old doesn’t start her new job in Bonn until January; before that, she worked at Leipzig University Hospital. "So I’ve just had some time off, and I wanted to contribute something," she says. She won’t be going to her family for Christmas, and neither will the whole team.

It’s important to the volunteers that even a negative test is not a free ride. "It’s not about giving someone a free pass. The test is only to help make a decision," Muller emphasizes. They hope the campaign will at least identify acutely contagious cases and then subject them to a PCR test instead of going to see family at Christmas. However, they recommend isolation to everyone – even if the test is negative.