PCR tests – the gold standard in the fight against omicron

PCR tests are described as the gold standard of corona tests and have played an important role in the fight against the corona virus since the beginning of the pandemic. People who have been alerted by the Corona-Warn-App, contact persons and people with positive self-tests will continue to receive a free PCR test. The federal and state governments wanted to introduce restrictions on the free tests, but the project was withdrawn.

In Germany, around 2,164 PCR tests are currently being carried out per 100,000 inhabitants, in other countries such as Austria the test rate is more than twice as high.

How is recovered status determined?

The current rule is: Without a positive PCR test, you are not counted as recovered for the next three months, despite the infection. If restrictions had been set for the free PCR tests, a positive rapid antigen test from a certified test center, for example from pharmacies, would have had to be sufficient proof of infection in the future in order to receive the recovered status. This necessary new regulation is now omitted.

Instead, free PCR tests should continue to be offered under certain conditions (e.g. in the case of a positive antigen rapid test). Prioritization should only take place during the evaluation: Among other things, medical staff should be able to get the test result more quickly.

That’s how important free PCR tests are

Testing is an important tool in the fight against  SARS-CoV-2 . Since PCR tests are more accurate than rapid antigen tests or home tests and detect the virus more reliably even with low viral loads, they offer many advantages:

  • Early corona warning system:  While rapid antigen tests or self-tests only react when there is a high viral load, PCR tests detect an infection at an early stage.
  • Fast prevention of infection:  Due to the high level of accuracy, infected people can go into quarantine at an early stage, so possible chains of infection can be quickly broken and infections prevented.
  • Lower hospitalization  rate: Examples from Austria, especially Vienna, show that an extensive test strategy can reduce the number of hospitalizations and relieve the burden on the healthcare system.

While the capacities for PCR tests are already fully utilized in Germany, in Austria, especially in Vienna, free PCR tests are offered at home, in supermarkets, in test centers and by general practitioners. The aim is to detect infections early on and contain the infection process as quickly as possible.

How does a PCR test work?

In a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, samples are usually taken from the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, for example the nose or the nasopharynx. Cough secretion and samples from the lower respiratory tract are also possible.

The genetic material of the virus is then amplified in the laboratory until it can be verified. It can take four to five hours to carry out the test, and those who have been tested usually receive the result on the day of the test or the following day.

What role does the CT value play?

Not every corona infected person is contagious, the amount of virus plays an important role. In this context, the CT value of the PCR test is decisive.

If many repetitions of the genetic evidence are necessary in the laboratory, an infected person is considered less or not contagious despite a positive test:

  • People with a high CT value only have a low viral load and are therefore less contagious.
  • People with a low CT value carry a high amount of virus and are therefore more contagious.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, people with a value over 30 are no longer contagious. Due to different procedures and their implementation, the CT value should not be generalized:

  • Corona tests  are carried out differently from test station to test station, and the amount of smear is also decisive. A distinction is also made between nasal and throat swabs.
  • PCR tests are not standardized: different manufacturers achieve different values.

The timing of the test also plays a crucial role, since people have not yet reached the maximum viral load shortly after infection and also have a lower CT value. Therefore, information from those affected should be consulted, for example when exactly a risky contact took place or how long the symptoms have existed.

PCR test also only a snapshot

Although PCR tests are more accurate than rapid antigen tests, they still remain a snapshot. So if you don’t have the opportunity to have regular PCR tests carried out, you should do an antigen quick test or self-test every day.

In the case of symptoms or after contact with infected people, a PCR test is a useful way to quickly rule out a possible infection.


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