Why Comparatively Fewer Germans are Dying From Coronavirus

There is a surplus of bad news as the coronavirus pandemic worsens around the world. Among the more terrible headlines, however, Germans have reason to feel optimistic: although they have one of the highest rates of infection, the country’s death rate is still relatively low.

This may change as the situation develops but — for now — German death rates from coronavirus have stayed beneath one percent. At the time of this writing, Germany has lost 560 people to coronavirus, despite having the fifth highest number of infected in the world, with 63,929 confirmed cases.

For comparison, the UK has more than twice as many dead, at 1,200 despite having only nearly one third as many cases. Germany has the lowest fatality rate of the ten nations currently being most infected by coronavirus.

Reason to be Optimistic?

The situation in Germany has some analysts optimistic. Why has the country fared so well? It is one of the most affected countries, with densely-packed cities and a globally-connected economy — for instance, the first recorded case in Germany came from a worker in Bavaria whose employer had factories in Wuhan.

Perhaps the most significant factor has been Germany’s brute force approach to testing. From the beginning, doctors have been testing most in-patients for the Coronavirus, and on Wednesday, the Robert Koch Institute announced plans to test hundreds of thousands of people for the presence of possible antibodies to the virus. They said they will then issue ‘Immunity Certificates’ to those who test positive for immunity to the virus and these people will be exempt from the lockdown.

Germany’s Top-Notch Healthcare System

Germany is also in the position to provide such a high degree of testing because of a well-funded and modernized healthcare system. The country has recently invested a great deal in its health service, which is well-staffed and has relatively more money than those of other countries. It also has the highest number of intensive-care beds per 100,000 patients in Europe.

Finally, unusually, more young Germans are getting the virus than older people. Patients over the age of 80 make up just around three percent of infected, while they account for seven percent of the population. The median age for those infected in Germany is around 46, while in countries with higher death rates it tends to be in the sixties.

A slightly obscure reason for this skewed age rate has been suggested: it was recently peak ski season in a country with a large population of skiers, as well as Carnival, a series of annual festivals around Germany with often raucous street parties. There was indeed a spike in infections following Carnival parties in the south, which were widely reported in German media.

Cautious Optimism

In a broadcast speech, Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, said that health officials are being cautious before declaring the country’s approach to the pandemic a success.

For example, many infected people have only recently entered hospitals, and there may yet be a spike in fatalities to come. A patient who is severely ill with the virus dies on average 30 days following infection. It’s quite possible that Germany is just simply behind the curve.

This in turn may create strain on the system in the next weeks. “I think we are unlikely to experience a situation like in Italy,” Stefan Willich, the director of the Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics at Charité University Hospital in Berlin, said. There are already reports of shortages of masks and protective gear. Recently, Germany’s death rate has also climbed from 0.48 percent to 0.72 percent.

The number of deaths in Germany is unusually low, and there are good reasons to expect that this trend will hold. However, the unpredictability of the virus may yet create situation more alike to what we’ve seen in other countries. Still, there are reasons for many Germans to be optimistic.