Ross Clark Ross Clark

Is Germany treating its coronavirus patients differently?

Photo by Tobias Schwartz/AFP via Getty Images

Asked at Tuesday’s evening briefing why Germany appears to have a lower coronavirus death rate than Britain, the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus, and there’s a lot to learn from that.’ Germany has the capacity for 500,000 tests a day, while our own government is promising only 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.

As has been explained here and elsewhere many times before, the more people you test, the lower your infection mortality rate will be – for the simple reason that you will be dividing your deaths by a larger dominator. In Britain, we gave up routine testing as soon as the fight against coronavirus moved from the ‘contain’ to ‘delay’ phase. Consequently, the people who are currently being tested for coronavirus in Britain are mostly those sick enough to seek hospital treatment – mild, or entirely asymptomatic cases (which according to Chinese and Italian studies could constitute between 50 and 80 per cent of total infections) go uncounted and therefore our infection mortality rate is relatively higher.

He says he was astounded at the extent to which ventilators have been used to treat patients in Italy

That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Germany’s low death rate is necessarily only a statistical quirk. It is also very notable that Germany has a much lower death rate per 100,000 than does Britain – by Tuesday, Germany had suffered 1,607 deaths compared with Britain’s 5,373. Considering that Germany has a population of 82 million compared with Britain’s 64 million, there is a very big difference here. Maybe Germany is at an earlier stage of the epidemic and deaths will carry on rising after they have stabilised in Britain, but not necessarily.

The other question that needs to be asked is whether there is something about Germany’s treatment of coronavirus victims that has resulted in a lower death rate.

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