Bavaria's free COVID-19 test for all splits Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) - The state of Bavaria approved plans on Tuesday for universal testing for COVID-19, prompting debate elsewhere in Germany about whether to follow suit or stick with the current targeted approach to prevent a possible second wave of infections.

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Germany has successfully managed to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control with far fewer deaths than most other large European nations despite relatively softer lockdown measures that allowed some social and economic life to continue.

But an outbreak this month at an abattoir in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia affecting more than 1,500 workers has forced a lockdown for 600,000 people and raised fears that Germany remains vulnerable despite its early success.

Under current rules, free tests are available for people who have symptoms such as fever and Germany’s 16 states carry out frequent tests among high-risk groups in, for example, retirement homes, hospitals and daycare centres.

“Corona is still breathing down our necks,” Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder told a news conference, saying the planned universal testing would be “faster, for free and for everybody”.

The plan has faced criticism that it could overwhelm testing centres and deny higher-risk groups access to testing.

“Test, test, test, - but make it targeted,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted about the Bavarian plan. “Simply carrying out a lot of tests sounds good, but without a systematic approach it is not expedient.”

The state of Berlin has indicated it will follow Bavaria’s decision to diverge from the national testing strategy agreed with the government and the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

But North Rhine-Westphalia - Germany’s most populous state - and Baden Wuerttemberg have said they prefer to stick with a targeted approach.

“For me it is particularly important that we do compulsory (testing) where the fire is,” said Armin Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Editing by Gareth Jones