Best-Practice Virus Management: Look to Germany

By Shlomo Maital

Angela Merkel

   Sometimes, something happens and – we know exactly why we were put on this earth. Take Angela Merkel. Americans would call her a ‘lame duck’ chancellor, as she has indicated she will not run for re-election as head of her party, and a successor was already chosen (and then, resigned, and a new successor emerged). But meanwhile, she is still Chancellor, leading Germany at a critical time – and guess what – she gets it. [She obtained a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986 and worked as a research scientist until 1989].   Listening to an ignorant, spiteful, uneducated draft-dodging American President who does NOT get, focused solely on his rapidly-decreasing chances for re-election, it is very painful, after hearing Merkel.

     In part because of Merkel’s leadership, and in part because Germany is a very well-run organized country strong in science and technology, Germany today is best-practice in emerging from the coronavirus lockdown. New York Times’ Berlin bureau chief Katrin Bennhold explains why:

   “….3,000 households [were] chosen at random in Munich for an ambitious study whose central aim is to understand how many people — even those with no symptoms — have already had the virus, a key variable to make decisions about public life in a pandemic. The study is part of an aggressive approach to combat the virus in a comprehensive way that has made Germany a leader among Western nations figuring out how to control the contagion while returning to something resembling normal life.”

     Bennhold continues: “Other nations, including the United States, are still struggling to test for infections. But Germany is doing that and more. It is aiming to sample the entire population for antibodies in coming months, hoping to gain valuable insight into how deeply the virus has penetrated the society at large, how deadly it really is, and whether immunity might be developing   The government hopes to use the findings to unravel a riddle that will allow Germany to move securely into the next phase of the pandemic: Which of the far-reaching social and economic restrictions that have slowed the virus are most effective and which can be safely. The same questions are being asked around the world. Other countries like Iceland and South Korea have tested broadly for infections, or combined testing with digital tracking to undercut the spread of the virus.

   “Germany, which produces most of its own high-quality test kits, is already testing on a greater scale than most — 120,000 a day and growing in a nation of 83 million. Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained scientist, said this week that the aim was nothing less than tracing “every infection chain.”   That high level of testing has helped her country slow the spread of the virus and keep the number of deaths relatively low. More people in Germany now recover from the virus every day than are infected by it. Every 10 people infected with the virus now pass it to seven others — a sharp decline in the infection rate for a virus that has spread exponentially.”

   “Nationally, the Robert Koch Institute, the government’s central scientific institution in the field of biomedicine, is testing 5,000 samples from blood banks across the country every two weeks and 2,000 people in four hot spots who are farther along in the cycle of the disease.   Its most ambitious project, aiming to test a nationwide random sample of 15,000 people across the country, is scheduled to begin next month.”

   “In the free world, Germany is the first country looking into the future,” said Prof. Michael Hoelscher, who heads up the Munich study, noting that a number of countries had already asked him for the protocol to be able to replicate it. “We are leading the thinking of what to do next.”   Mr. Hoelscher was co-author of what has become a widely influential research paper about how the virus can be transmitted before someone develops symptoms.   “There’s no doubt after reading this paper that asymptomatic transmission is occurring,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, told CNN on Feb. 1, three days after the paper was published. “This study lays the question to rest. Asymptomatic transmission is what has made containment so difficult because a large number of infections are not detected.”