Germany’s relatively low mortality rate continues to intrigue experts as Covid-19 spreads across Europe, with some questioning the methodology behind its data gathering while others argue the country’s high testing rates allow a more accurate approximation of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus.
While the pandemic has hit Germany with full force, with Johns Hopkins University noting 22,364 confirmed infections by Sunday morning, only 84 people are so far reported to have died.
This means Germany currently has the lowest mortality rate of the 10 countries most severely hit by the pandemic: 0.3% compared with 9% in Italy and 4.6% in the UK.
The contrast with Italy is especially surprising because the two countries have the highest percentage of citizens aged 65 or over in Europe. If anything, the Bloomberg Global Health Index would suggest Italians have a healthier lifestyle than Germans.
German politicians and senior health officials have been reluctant to comment on the low mortality rate while the situation is developing so rapidly. Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the government’s central public health body, has said he does not expect there to be a significant difference in mortality rates between Italy and Germany in the long run.
“It’s too early to say whether Germany is better medically prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic than other countries,” said Marylyn Addo, who heads the infectiology department at Hamburg’s University Medical Centre.
One likely explanation for the discrepancy in figures, Addo suggested, was that while northern Italy’s hospitals are being overrun with new patients, Germany’s are not yet at full capacity and have had more time to clear beds, stock up on equipment and redistribute personnel.
“One advantage Germany has is that we started doing professional contact tracing when the first cases were reported,” Addo said. “It bought us some time to prepare our clinics for the coming storm.”
Crucially, Germany started testing people even with milder symptoms relatively early on, meaning the total number of confirmed cases may give a more accurate picture of the virus’s spread than in other states.
According to Germany’s National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, the country has capacity for about 12,000 Covid-19 tests per day, while Wieler has claimed it has capacity for 160,000 tests per week.