Germany has spent far more than £48m on test and trace

17 March 2021
What was claimed

The cost of the German Test and Trace system has been £48 million.

Our verdict

Funding for the German system is complicated, but available figures suggest that far more than the £48 million has been spent.

What was claimed

The cost of the UK Test and Trace system has been £32 billion.

Our verdict

The budget for the first two years of NHS Test and Trace is £37 billion. Spending up to the beginning of April 2021 is estimated at around £20 billion, but we don’t have clear figures yet.

A Facebook post shared thousands of times claims the cost of the UK’s Test and Trace system was £32 billion, compared with £48 million for the system in Germany. This is despite Germany having a larger population and about half as many Covid-19 deaths as the UK.

Looking at the figures on deaths and population alone, the post is accurate. UK deaths after a positive Covid test stood at 125,484 on 11 March, when the post was published, while Germany has recorded 73,120 deaths. The UK population is around 66.8 million, Germany’s is around 83.1 million.

The Test and Trace cost comparison is incorrect and misleading.

How much has Test and Trace cost? 

NHS Test and Trace has not cost the UK £32 billion so far. We have written about this before.

In total, the government allocated £22 billion to it in 2020/21 and a further £15 billion for 2021/22.

Actual spending was £5.7bn up to the end of November and is expected to near £20bn by the beginning of April.

What about Germany?

It is difficult to give a reliable estimate for the total cost of the German system, but it is certainly much more than £48 million.

When we contacted the German Federal Ministry of Health, it wasn’t able to give us an estimate of the total cost but said the funding of this system was more complex than the post suggested. For example, different elements are paid for by the federal government, states and insurance.

However, while it’s very difficult to calculate even a rough estimate of the overall cost, we do have some figures for parts of the German system which collectively suggest the total far exceeds the figure in the Facebook post.

For example, Germany’s Corona-Warn contact tracing app was launched in June 2020 and according to reports cost €20 million to develop and was expected to cost €2.5 million to €3.5 million a month to operate. While we haven't been able to find a total for the costs since then, if those estimates proved accurate and consistent, a rough calculation would suggest that by March 2021 the total cost of the app alone may have been €42.5 million to €51.5 million (or roughly £38 million to £46 million).

Free rapid antigen testing in Germany, allowing all asymptomatic citizens to have a test at least once a week, started in March 2021 (though free testing was available to some prior to that). In February 2021, the German federal government estimated that 1 million to 1.5 million free rapid antigen tests a day would cost it between €18 million and €27 million daily (equivalent to £15 million to £23 million a day or £105 million to £161 million a week).

Since we first published this piece, multiple German media outlets have reported that in August 2021, the German Federal Office for Social Security announced that the federal government had paid €3.7 billion for Covid-19 rapid antigen tests free to its citizens so far that year. This figure included laboratory diagnostics, material costs for rapid antigen tests and “other services in accordance with the current test regulation” amongst other things.

These different figures together suggest that far more than the £48 million quoted in the Facebook post has been spent in Germany on test and trace operations.

However it’s important to stress that these rough figures are far from comprehensive and can’t be used to suggest the total Germany has spent. The cost of a contract tracing app for a nine-month period or the cost of rapid antigen tests for part of 2021 isn’t equivalent to the total figure for the NHS Test and Trace system, which includes a number of services such as testing, ‘contain’ activities (including identifying local outbreaks and supporting local responses to the pandemic), tracing services and the NHS Covid-19 app. We don’t know how much the equivalent package of services cost the German government.

Image courtesy of KOBU Agency, via Unsplash.

Correction 1 February 2022

This article previously included a crude estimate for part of the cost of the German system—the cost of testing up to March 2021. That calculation was wrong, because it compared figures for two different sorts of Covid tests, so we have now removed the estimate from this article. We have also added additional information on the likely cost of the German contact-tracing app and rapid antigen tests.

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