Toughest time for Germany in COVID-19 battle has not arrived

By Li Aixin Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/30 23:58:40

A German police officer wearing a protective mask checks a driver at the border with Austria, near the German village of Oberaudorf as Germany imposed border controls with five countries in a viral fightback, on Monday. Germany introduced border controls with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP

 As Germany has maintained a substantially lower death rate from COVID-19 than other European countries, especially Italy, some have asserted the country has seen remarkable success in its efforts to contain the coronavirus, although experts caution that the worst may yet be to come.  

Germany, which reported over 62,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday with more than 540 deaths, has the fifth most coronavirus cases worldwide, following the US, Italy, China and Spain. Italy's COVID-19 fatality rate surged to about 10 percent while Germany has maintained a figure of 0.7 percent.  

Observers acknowledged the country's well-equipped healthcare system and widespread testing regimen have contributed to its low coronavirus death rate. 

Germany has 28,000 intensive care beds, compared with 5,000 in Italy. It has 29.2 ICU beds per 100,000 inhabitants, considered high among European countries, as well as one of the globe's largest makers of ventilators, Dr?gerwerk. 

Germany's Federal Ministry of Health is "currently assuming a capacity of at least 300,000 tests a week," according to German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which observers believe is a vital recipe that has prevented Germany from becoming a second Italy. 

However, analysts asserted it is too early to talk about the low death rate before the pandemic ends, at least not before the real peak in German cases arrives. 

One cannot assert that Germany is away from eye of the storm simply because of its currently low death rate, Sun Keqin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Monday, noting the number of total confirmed infections is already quite high, and worse, it is continuing to rise steeply. 

"The larger the number of infections becomes, the quicker the disease will spread, which means Germany has already entered the phase of an outbreak," Sun said. His remarks echoed those of Lothar Wieler, head of the Germany-based Robert Koch Institute, who claimed "we are at the beginning of an epidemic" on Wednesday.

Fatality rate can change considerably during an epidemic, a WHO/Europe spokesperson told Global Times on Monday via email, noting "we cannot make predictions for any specific country or region" on when the peak would arrive and countries in early stage of the epidemic "may well begin to experience more deaths in the coming days and weeks."

Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that up to 70 percent of the country's population - around 58 million people - could be infected by COVID-19. Merkel herself is in self-quarantine after her doctor had tested positive for the virus.

The phenomenon - that more and more European politicians who have been infected or exposed to infected patients - mirrors the pandemic situation among the public there is more severe than anticipated, according to experts, as they predict coronavirus infections in Germany will grow exponentially. 

There are worries about economic pressure which has been shaped by the pandemic. Thomas Schaefer, finance minister of Germany's Hesse State, committed suicide after "coronavirus crisis worries." State Premier of Hesse Volker Bouffier noted on Sunday that Schaefer killed himself after becoming "deeply worried" on how to cope with the economic fallout due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite having enough well-equipped beds now, how long that will last remains uncertain, not to mention a large portion of medical resources are currently occupied by patients with other diseases, Sun noted. 

Another limiting factor in Germany is the number of staff. "Should many of them get sick as in Italy and Spain, while the number of patients grows, the situation could eventually get out of hand," Gunter Schoech, founder and managing director of the Germany-based market research and consulting company Débrouillage Ltd, told the Global Times Monday. 

At the same time, the use of masks is a problem in the country as not many people wear them in public.  

Mainstream German media is questioning whether wearing a protective face mask works to curb the infection, while also suggesting people not buy up all the supply of surgical masks because they are urgently needed for professionals, Schoech said, adding "for a while, people with masks were laughed at."

Unlike China, Germany is gradually gearing up its non-compulsory measures in the combat against COVID-19 based on the development of the pandemic, like every other European country, Sun said, adding that instead of being led by the nose, the country should consider carrying out a more stringent methods, like the mandatory wearing of masks and tougher quarantine measures. 

Dozens of boxes containing 50,000 medical masks dispatched from China were handed over to Bedburg city officials in eastern Germany on March 23. On Sunday, Chinese Ambassador to Germany Wu Ken talked with a Heinsberg official in a phone call, expressing China's condolences for the country's epidemic situation, and donated medical materials on behalf of the Chinese government to Heinsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia.

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