On April 7, Germany reported about 105,000 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. But the country’s death rate from a pandemic remains around 1.5%, according to US and German disease control experts. *
This figure is far lower than that of fellow EU members, Spain (9.5%) and Italy (12%). This diversion has received much attention from the English-language media, with US and British outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian and several public broadcasters painting a beautiful picture of Germany’s handling of the crisis.
DW breaks down some of the most prominent narratives about Germany’s response to the new coronavirus and why death rates appear to be so low – and whether they are true to reality.
- Claim: Germany is testing at one of the highest rates per capita in the world, and is also testing individuals with mild or asymptomatic symptoms
Reality: The German Ministry of Health said that it was testing 300,000 people per week in a country of 82 million people; he has done more tests than Italy, the center of European pandemics. While it is a massive effort, assuming that every German population will be tested once, it will take 3 years to test the entire population.
Comparing per capita test rates worldwide is very difficult, because some countries, such as the US, do not have a central registrar that records all tests in all countries. Complicating matters further are conflicting figures even within each country; use of different time measurements; and delays in reporting. These factors make it more difficult to track and say with certainty which country has the highest number of tests per capita.
In addition, the German disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, has criticized German testing methods, complaining for example that too many asymptomatic individuals are being tested. The RKI called for an end to this practice on the grounds that Germany could risk running out of tests. Therefore, people without symptoms are not currently recommended for testing.
- Claim: Germany is allegedly considering the issuance of “immunity certificates” to enable people who have recovered from the virus to move freely
Reality: The origin of this rumor seems to be a quote by a scientist interviewed by the German news magazine Der Spiegel, dan reported by Deutsche Welle, which suggested it in connection with a potential research project. It was later taken by The Telegraph in the UK and Business Insider in the US and reported as a policy of the German government.
German virologists are currently working on tests that will determine whether recovered people have antibodies that make them immune to the virus. However, the current scientific consensus is that there is no way to measure such length or strength of immunity, with estimates varying from a few weeks to a year. Therefore, the certificate is not seriously considered by the German government as a method to combat the spread of disease.
- Claim: The German death rate is very low due to advanced planning and an excellent health care system
Reality: Germany does have a strong public health care system which at present seems to be facing a storm. However, as is the case in many countries, medical professionals in respiratory care and intensive care reports work too much, and there is a risk of running out of protective equipment. Even though Germany has enough hospitals, they are chronically understaffed, and medical students are now helping in the most overwhelmed units.
Statistics on the number of intensive care centers in the country are often cited as evidence of Germany’s superior readiness to deal with this crisis. However, German officials report different figures. The German Hospital Association says there are 40,000 beds, which is about 49 for every 100,000 of Germany’s 82 million population. The Registrar for Intensive Care Services says there are 24,000, of which only about 29 for every 100,000 people.
As for advanced planning, the German lockup and social distance regulations were put in place more than a week after fellow European Union members France, Austria and Spain adopted similar policies. Regardless of what happened in Italy in early March, Germany is actually much slower to react than its neighbors.
However, behind the still low German mortality rate is the meeting of many other factors. This includes the country’s federal government system, which means there are hundreds of health officials who oversee the pandemic response in 16 states, and not a centralized response from the country’s national Ministry of Health.
- Claim: The US government is trying to steal the German vaccine
Reality: One of the first German coronavirus stories reported globally comes from an article in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, which claims that President Trump’s administration is trying to seduce CureVac, a biopharmaceutical company based in Tübingen.
The newspaper quoted an anonymous source who claimed that Washington offered substantial financial incentives to develop vaccines “only for the US.”
After the quote is translated, it is reported by The Guardian and other news outlets. Since then, however, it has been rejected by the US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, German Health Minister Jens Spahn, and CureVac himself.
What’s more, CureVac is just one of dozens of German companies competing to make vaccines, and Germany is just one of many countries whose scientific community is now focusing on immunization for COVID-19.
- Claim: One reason German death rates are low is because Germans are soon trapped in rules about social distance
Reality: This is a misplaced belief circulating on social media, possibly based on old stereotypes of the German national character rather than actual evidence. There are no difficult statistics, but widespread anecdotal evidence would suggest otherwise.
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel first suggested on March 18 that Germans live in as many homes as possible and refrain from meeting in groups, thousands of social media users complained about the beautiful weather, and local ice cream shops and cafes remained open. Nothing seems to change about public life other than the lack of toilet paper.
Even after non-essential restaurants and shops were closed and fines introduced for gathering in groups of more than two, regulations were still violated. Berlin police must ask concerned citizens to stop clogging emergency lines with reports of rule breakers, and the city club scene is reportedly still being strong through underground raves. People shouldn’t stop and sit in the park or face punishment, but this is what the Berlin park looked like last weekend:
* In reporting a coronavirus pandemic, unless otherwise specified, DW uses figures provided by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center (JHU) in the United States. JHU updates the numbers in real time, collecting data from world health organizations, state and national governments and other public official sources, all of which have their own systems for gathering information.
German national statistics compiled by its public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). These figures depend on data transmission from the state and local levels and are updated about once a day, which can cause deviations from JHU.Every night, the DW editor sends a selection of news journalism and the quality of the day’s news. You can register to receive it directly here.
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