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Reopening puts Germany’s much-praised coronavirus response at risk

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  • Reopening puts Germany’s much-praised coronavirus response at risk


    Reopening puts Germany’s much-praised coronavirus response at risk
    By Kai Kupferschmidt, Gretchen VogelApr. 27, 2020 , 2:35 PM

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Angela Merkel is generally not an alarmist. But in a 23 April speech to parliament, the German chancellor warned that the country’s push to ease coronavirus restrictions was a dangerous game. “Let’s not gamble away what we’ve achieved and risk a setback,” she urged.

    Her real audience wasn’t the members of the Bundestag, seated 2 meters apart, but the leaders of the German L?nder, or states. Like governors in the United States, these regional leaders have the power to decide whether and when to reopen schools, shops, churches, and cafes—and several think it’s time. Many schools and shops reopened last week, with more to come in early May. But Merkel, like many of the country’s scientists, has pushed back, saying additional weeks of tight restrictions are needed to drive COVID-19 cases lower. “It is the right thing to do to lift some restrictions,” Merkel emphasized. “But the way some states are going forward is rather brisk,” she said. “I would say too brisk.”

    The debate is a familiar one in many countries that are seeing dropping numbers of new COVID-19 cases and deaths. But Germany stands out in two respects. It has done an exemplary job of managing its epidemic so far, earning plaudits from the World Health Organization (WHO). And one small, unpublished study in a hard-hit German town has fueled the calls to reopen society, by suggesting the virus is less deadly than thought and that a large fraction of the population may already be immune to it.

    Many things have played in Germany’s favor so far. A team led by Christian Drosten at Charit? University Hospital in Berlin developed the world’s first diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2 in mid-January, which was quickly shared worldwide. After a cluster of cases in Bavaria in late January showed how easily the virus spreads, Germany ramped up testing earlier than most countries, helped by a wide, decentralized network of diagnostic labs. In March, the country shut down public life in time to avoid the overwhelmed hospitals and sobering death tolls of Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland. (Most hospitals are operating well below capacity, and many have welcomed patients from overburdened hospitals in Italy, France, and the Netherlands.) So far, Germany has had just over 152,000 confirmed cases, but only 5500 deaths, far fewer per capita than most European countries. About 2000 new cases are now diagnosed every day, down from 5000 in mid-March.

    The success has made some leaders question whether restrictions are still justified. ...