• Friday, Jul 10, 2020
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Dissecting Germany's low coronavirus death rate

  • Published at 08:59 pm March 23rd, 2020
File photo: The empty Neumarkt square in front of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is seen during a partial lockdown in Dresden, Germany on March 23 Reuters

With 28,000 intensive care beds complete with respiratory support, Germany is well equipped compared to its European neighbours

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise across Europe, the figures in Germany have experts scratching their heads.

Despite being among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, Germany has recorded an astonishingly low number of deaths in comparison to its European neighbours.

The latest official figures published by the disease control agency Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Sunday showed 22,672 confirmed infections, 86 of whom had died. 

Figures from private data provider Statista show the death rate of just 0.4% in Germany compares with much higher rates of 9.2% in Italy, 7.8% in Iran and 6.1% in Spain. The average age of people infected with the virus in Germany is 45, reports Reuters.

It’s difficult to disentangle," admitted Richard Pebody of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"We don’t have a true answer and it’s probably a combination of different factors.” 

Here are some of the explanations put forward by specialists. 

Better medical equipment

With 28,000 intensive care beds complete with respiratory support, Germany is well equipped compared to its European neighbours. 

By contrast, France only has around 7,000 and Italy around 5,000. 

In Britain, latest NHS figures show that there are just over 4,000 critical care beds across England, while health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the UK has 5,000 available ventilators. 

Ill patients in Germany have thus far been able to recover quickly.

To prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, as they have been in Italy or eastern France, the German government has also said it planned to double intensive respiratory care beds.  

Even hotels and large public halls are to be repurposed as makeshift hospitals for patients with less serious symptoms, so that hospitals can be freed up to treat those who are severely ill.

Early testing

Virologist Christian Drosten, from Berlin's Charite hospital, said in a weekend newspaper interview that the lower death rate in Germany - compared to Italy - could be partly explained by widespread early testing for the virus here.

"I assume that many young Italians are or were infected without ever being detected," he told newspaper Die Zeit. "This also explains the virus' supposedly higher mortality rate there."

Germany also has a network of independent laboratories, many of which began testing as early as January, when case numbers were still very low. 

The high number of labs has increased screening capacity nationwide, and the RKI estimates that 12,000 people can be tested a day in Germany. 

Getting a test is therefore easier than in some other countries. Anyone who is showing symptoms, has been in contact with a confirmed case or has recently returned from a risk zone is eligible, reports AFP. 

Younger patients

The virus has also largely affected a younger, healthier section of the population in Germany compared to elsewhere.

"In Germany, more than 70% of the people identified as having been infected until now are between 20 and 50 years old," explained RKI president Lothar Wieler.

As in Scandinavia, the first infections in Germany were identified in people who had recently returned from skiing holidays in Italy or Austria. 

Yet in a country where almost a quarter of the population is over 60, there are fears that the number of deaths will skyrocket as the virus spreads further.

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