Published on: March 19, 2020
When I discuss the upcoming Coronavirus health care crisis in Germany people almost always mention the very lower death rate compared to other major EU countries.
A lot of people seem to be missing that Germany doesn‘t do post-mortem tests for COVID-19 on deceased patients. This is according to the RKI, the German version of the CDC. Therefore, the true number of Coronavirus deaths is underreported in Germany – probably to a large extent. Any recorded death needs to be a patient that tested positive while still alive, yet also sick enough to be tested in the first place.
That means we cannot use this number as evidence of an unusually effective German healthcare system which is dealing well with the virus. Compared to Italy, they are just in an earlier stage where the system isn‘t swamped yet. Once the surge capacity of German hospitals is overwhelmed (which we should see within a week in my estimation) we will see a sharp rise in these numbers, even with the current underreporting (which, by the way, also shows exponential growth).
I believe German politicians feel like everything is under control because the death toll seems relatively low and because Germany does have the highest number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Europe per capita; about 28,000. Current policy is to focus on doubling that number.
Just viewed by itself, that is good and advisable. But, because Germany has failed to implement very strict social distancing measures as of yet, like Italy and France, that effort won’t have much of an effect. In the face of exponential growth it simply buys Germany a couple of extra days before the healthcare system collapses. And that time has already been wasted.
In my estimation, Angela Merkel and the Minister of Health won’t survive 2020 in office, because the country is headed for an unprecedent healthcare disaster and still has failed to implement meaningful measures. Merkel’s TV speech last night was more of the same: Friendly advice on what to do and not do, but no announcement of any actual new social distancing measures like Macron had done for France a few days earlier.
You may remember that I correctly predicted a month ago that the Euro 2020 would not be carried out this year. It seemed absurd to many then, yet I thought it was obvious from the data we had at the time.
All in all, the lack of meaningful action in Germany is perplexing to me, because we now have a lot of data out of Italy to work with. For instance, there is clear evidence that strict social distancing measures, as implemented in Italy and France works. Just compare how the cities of Lodi and Bergamo were doing:Source: Dowd, et al.
Lodi implemented a full shutdown on February 23rd, while Bergamo waited until March 8th.
Meanwhile Frank Ulrich Montgomery, Chairman of the German Agency for Quality in Medicine tells people that he doesn’t like lockdowns, “because they didn’t work in Italy”.
Except, of course, they do; as the data shows. Germany is trying to avoid a complete shutdown at all costs, yet will pay dearly for it. And will likely have to commit to one by the end of the week anyway, as the numbers of infected keep surging with no end in sight.