PLoS ONE (Jan 2022)

Is large-scale rapid CoV-2 testing a substitute for lockdowns?

  • Marc Diederichs,
  • René Glawion,
  • Peter G. Kremsner,
  • Timo Mitze,
  • Gernot J. Müller,
  • Dominik Papies,
  • Felix Schulz,
  • Klaus Wälde

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 17, no. 3


Read online

Background Various forms of contact restrictions have been adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Around February 2021, rapid testing appeared as a new policy instrument. Some claim it may serve as a substitute for contact restrictions. We study the strength of this argument by evaluating the effects of a unique policy experiment: In March and April 2021, the city of Tübingen set up a testing scheme while relaxing contact restrictions. Methods We compare case rates in Tübingen county to an appropriately identified control unit. We employ the synthetic control method. We base interpretations of our findings on an extended SEIR model. Findings The experiment led to an increase in the reported case rate. This increase is robust across alternative statistical specifications. This is also due to more testing leading initially to more reported cases. An epidemiological model that corrects for ‘more cases due to more testing’ and ‘reduced testing and reporting during the Easter holiday’ confirms that the overall effect of the experiment led to more infections. Interpretation The number of rapid tests were not sufficiently high in this experiment to compensate for more contacts and thereby infections caused by relaxing contact restrictions.