Germany is one of the few countries that have the lowest rate of coronavirus victims even though the population is huge. They started working sensibly and took the best measures to prevent a large number of deaths and victims of this global pandemic. Germany’s health minister says that the one-month long lockdown has brought his country’s coronavirus outbreak under control. Jens Spahn said that since 12 April the number of recovered patients had been consistently higher than the number of new infections which is surprising as you compare it with the other big countries like the USA and Australia. The rate of infected people has dropped to 0.7 that is, each infected person passed the virus to fewer than one other. In Germany 3,868 have died of Covid-19 – fewer than in Italy, Spain or France. However, the number of fatalities is still rising in Germany, as is the number of infected health care workers. So far almost 134,000 people have been infected in Germany and its city Frankfurt is one of the major cities which is keeping the number of victims in control. The degree of lockdown varies across Germany’s regions – it is tightest in the states of Bavaria and Saarland as they have the highest number of reported infected persons. Last week Chancellor Angela Merkel announced tentative steps to start easing the restrictions so people could feel the sense of freedom. Some smaller shops will reopen next week and schools will start reopening at the end of May, with the focus on students due to sit exams soon. But she also warned that there was little margin for error and the caution should be the watchword for. Sports and leisure facilities, as well as cafes and restaurants, will remain closed indefinitely and public gatherings will be strictly prohibited.
Germany’s network of diagnostic labs has been praised internationally for having responded rapidly to the pandemic and controlling the situation in the best manner. By early April Germany was doing more than 100,000 swab tests daily, enabling more coronavirus carriers to be traced than in other EU countries. Mr. Spahn said that by August, German companies would produce up to 50 million face masks a week for healthcare workers all around the world. On Friday the eastern state of Saxony became the first German state to make the wearing of masks compulsory on public transport and in shops, Frankfurt is following the footstep and you won’t see any person on the street without a mask. Mask-wearing is compulsory in neighboring Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
In many countries, only high-risk patients and the most critically ill are being tested not many people know how to think about that. This results in fairly accurate fatality numbers but dramatically underestimates case numbers, as most cases cause mild illness and would not be tested. Germany’s rapid testing program was helped by the use of a distributed network of testing through individual hospitals, clinics, and laboratories, instead of relying on tests from a single government resource, as was the case in countries such as the US and the UK. The federated German system allows for more regional autonomy, making it easier for local healthcare systems to coordinate the work of different laboratories and continue testing patients in large numbers. Distributed testing is now slowly being implemented in many countries.
The low fatality rate in many cities of Germany is not just a matter of the number of tests, but also how the government has acted on the data. Germany’s robust testing program is coupled with identifying and isolating infected patients. As the virus spreads most effectively from people at the early stages of the disease with no or mild symptoms, early identification and isolation would have a disproportionately large impact on the spread of the disease and the government is being praised for taking the right steps timely.
Slowing the spread of the virus in Germany has also allowed for increased hospital readiness that helps to reduce fatalities. For example, the number of acute-care beds in Germany is 621 per 100,000 people, compared with Italy’s 275 beds per 100,000 and the UK’s 228 beds per 100,000.
The impact of early interventions and increased preparedness can be seen in the time from the first case to the first fatality of COVID-19. Germany had its first case of coronavirus on January 27, before Italy on January 31, but the first fatality was not recorded until March 9, significantly later than in Italy on February 21. The increased critical care capacity is also probably playing a role in reducing fatalities in Germany.
It has been reported that only 20% of cases in Germany are in people over 60 years old (compared with up to 50% in other European countries, such as Spain). We know that COVID-19 causes more severe illness and has a higher fatality rate in older people, so the percentage of people over 60 that are infected could dramatically influence the fatality rate. But the median age of the population in Germany is 45.7 years old with 21% of their population being over 65 years old, comparable with that seen in Italy (median age 47.3, 23% over 65 years old) and older than that of the UK (median age 40.5, 19% over 65 years old). This suggests Germany’s low rate of infection in over 60s is more likely to do with rapid testing, isolation, and physical-distancing measures than simply demographics. Despite Germany’s strengths around isolation, hospital preparation, and so on, it still suffered from the same delayed response as many other countries. For comparison, Italy began lockdowns on March 8. This is probably part of the explanation for why Germany’s low number of fatalities has not been accompanied by a low number of cases or a low rate of transmission. Perhaps earlier implementation of distancing protocols would have also reduced the spread of COVID-19 in the country.