The Curious Case of Low Coronavirus Deaths in Germany

The number of people infected with COVID-19 in the United States has been rising exponentially for the past few weeks. Reports are coming in that people are not following social distancing guidelines while many states are still not on lockdown. There is a fear of overreaching government that has contributed to this mess of a situation.

Now more than ever it is important to see how other countries are managing the pandemic and why they have low death rates. One of the greatest examples of the right approach to this pandemic is perhaps Germany. The country has 103,375 reported cases, and only 1,810 deaths as of now.

At the time, the death rate in Germany is just 1.6%. In comparison, the death rate in United states is 3%. Other countries like Italy, Spain, France, Britain and China have their death rates much higher at 12%, 10%, 10%, 10% and 4%, respectively.

So, what is it that Germany is doing different?

Robust Testing

Germany acted quickly at the start of the pandemic and mobilized its testing and tracking units early. They implemented the approach of tests, tests, and more tests.

Right now, the estimates suggest that they have already tested 1 million people out of their 80 million total population, at the rate of 350,000 tests a week.  This means that every 1 in 90 people are getting tested. In comparison, United States is testing 1 in every 273 people, United Kingdom is testing 1 in every 404 people, and South Korea is testing 1 in every 119 people.

Source: Our World in Data

Germany was prepared and it rolled out testing very rapidly to a large number of people, relative to its population. The question is how did Germany know to prepare? The answer is Charité Hospital in Berlin. The hospital had already come up with a test in mid-January when only China was reporting cases.

The Young Age of the Sick

Charité had also posted the formula to the test online. When Germany had its first case in February, the laboratories int the country had already stockpiled a lot of tests.

It meant that as the number of diagnosed cases went up, the death rate remained the same. More people getting tested and soon meant that they could manage the disease in a better way, thus keeping their death rate low.

Another important factor was that the reported average age of those infected was just 49 in Germany. This means that most cases are restricted to the young, resulting in a better health outcome in most cases. In comparison, in France the average age of infection is 62.5 and in Italy 62.

Efficient Tracking

Germany’s strength has been its tracking and contact tracing. Though they did fumble a bit in the start when the first cases appeared in Austrian and Italian ski resorts which they were not able to follow up with, the German authorities quickly learned and increased their efforts at preventive and protective measures.

When the number of cases is diagnosed early, it automatically helps the public health officials to track the people who may have come in contact with the patient.

This also helps with the prognosis. When people are diagnosed early, the public health officials can keep an eye on the health of the patient. If they are deteriorating, timely interventions can be made. This results in keeping the death rate down.

The country has also come up with another method of tracking. The city of Heidelberg, Germany, has deployed corona taxis that carry medics in personal protective equipment. They cruise around the city and check on patients that are sick. This helps with the timely medical interventions in cases where a patient’s condition is serious.

No Cost Testing

An important aspect of the successful testing has been the cost. The people of Germany have to pay nothing for getting coronavirus testing.

This is in contrast with United States where in earlier days of coronavirus pandemic the testing was not free. Only after the Congress passed Coronavirus Relief Bill in February did the testing become free. When testing is free, people are more likely to get tested. If the step would have been taken earlier, more cases could have been tested earlier in America.

Sufficient Health Care Capacity

Since German authorities have been preparing for the virus quite early, they had enough time to increase the capacity of their intensive care units. They have increased their capacity so much that they are now accepting patients from Italy, Spain and France whose hospitals are overrunning with patients.

When the pandemic started in January in Europe, Germany had only 28,000 intensive care unit beds, but now the capacity is at 40,000. The hospitals have also increased staff at many places which are on standby if worst comes to worst.

The Government

According to reports, the people in Germany took the social distancing guidelines seriously and followed them to the later. Many took their lead from the Vice Chancellor Angela Merkel who is a scientist herself.

Her leadership at this hard time was welcomed by the public and people appreciated her cool and firm demeanor while implementing rational decision-making at the highest level of government. The trust the people had in her leadership and her government meant that people followed health guidelines and social distancing measures.

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