Over the past few weeks there has been widespread curiosity about the German healthcare system. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the infection curve in Germany has risen just as steeply as in Italy, and the measures it has imposed are quite similar to those elsewhere. Yet, its death rate is noticeably lower. Of 100,132 Germans who have tested positive, only 1,584 have died, as of this morning. Compared to fatality rates above 6 per cent in neighbouring France, Netherlands or Belgium, that seems remarkable.
The most important reason for Germany’s rate is intense testing, using the South Korean model where widespread testing and isolation helped flatten the curve of new infections. The President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) – Germany’s public body in charge of the country’s response to infectious diseases – said on 20 March that domestic laboratories were able to conduct as many as 160,000 tests per week. To put that number in comparison, Britain was able to carry out roughly between 10,000 tests per day in mid-March.
Germany did not reach its ceiling back then. The RKI now believes that its laboratories can produce up to 500,000 tests per week. According to a strategy paper by the German government, their goal is now 200,000 tests per day. How has Germany managed to test so many compared to others in Europe?
First of all, it had a head-start. Already, on 16 January, before the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that the novel coronavirus could be transmitted from one human to another, German scientists had created a test that proved to be one of the first reliable means of detecting the virus. That test was then rapidly produced and adopted by the WHO.
Since February, between 200 and 300 German laboratories have become involved in the rapid testing scheme.