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Omicron: German Capital Berlin Turns Into COVID Hotspot

Four young people are sitting outside the registry office in Berlin's Charlottenburg district, wearing thick jackets, holding a bottle of champagne and a small wedding cake. Their loud laughter echoes through the air. Angela and Johannes just got married — under COVID-19 restrictions, which allow only seven people to attend the ceremony. "We had to submit the registration in writing and for the wedding we had to be vaccinated, recovered or recently tested," says the bride. The ceremony lasted 10 to 15 minutes, she says. We were allowed to take off our masks and kiss each other when we said yes," she says happily. She does not want to let the steep increase in infections throughout Berlin spoil her mood.

But the mood is somber in the lively district of Kreuzberg. It's unusually quiet here in the streets with their many small shops, restaurants and cafes. Only a few passers-by are out and about. "It's totally dead," says a saleswoman resignedly. She has never experienced such a slump before. But with the high number of infections, practically no one dares go outside anymore.

The number of infections in Berlin has skyrocketed. The 7-day incidence stands at almost 1,000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants. Omicron has long since replaced the Delta variant.

Especially in the densely populated districts like Mitte and the southeastern areas of Neukölln, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg.

Long lines at testing centers

The high number of infections has led to a rush to the twelve state-owned test centers that offer free rapid antigen and PCR tests.

Long queues stretch along the streets. One young couple standing outside the test center in Wedding district on Saturday afternoon told DW they had already been in line for an hour and would certainly have to wait another hour. "We did two rapid tests that were negative each time," they say. "But we have had contact with someone who is infected. That's why we now want clarity through a PCR test."

Behind them are numerous people waiting, all with FFP2 masks and spaced out at large distances. The line is at least 300 meters long (nearly 1,000 feet). Rain is expected at the beginning of the week. Anyone who is not infected with COVID here will certainly catch at least a cold.

Antigen or PCR test?

The queues in front of the test centers belonging to the commercial provider Coronatest.de are not as long. The company operates 50 test centers nationwide, 20 of which are in Berlin. It offers antigen and PCR tests, which are evaluated in four of its own laboratories, explains managing director Benjamin Föckersberger in an interview with DW.

Here, PCR swabs cost between €14.99 and €120 ($17.10-$137), depending on how quickly you want an answer and what you need the test for.

Testing labs on the verge of collapse

In Berlin, only two laboratories have been commissioned to evaluate the tests from the public test centers. Because of the overload, it sometimes takes three or more days before the result is communicated.

Even the city's renowned Charité University Hospital is affected, because every patient who is admitted must first be isolated until the result of the PCR test arrives. His company has offered to step in and offer capacities, but the health administration has so far rejected this.

Sick leave threatens the economy

Benjamin Föckersberger hopes that the city's new top health official, Ulrike Gote, will soon solve the problem of the overcrowded test centers and that his company is also granted some support. At the moment, however, he has another problem: numerous employees have also called in sick in his test centers, so that he can only operate some centers at half capacity.

High infection numbers and high numbers of people out sick could soon lead to a loss of care for the population in Berlin. The shelves in the supermarkets are still well stocked. But infrastructure challenges keep coming — even the city's public transport companies have already announced that they will limit the number of buses on some lines this week.

This article was originally written in German.

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Source: DW