Germany has been affected in much the same way as anywhere else in Western Europe when it comes to the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19. It spread so rapidly that in many cases the country did not know how to stem the flow of those getting the virus. First of all, it was just thought to be a Chinese problem, originating in the city of Wuhan in the populous province of Hubei. The Chinese were themselves quick to respond, as they could remember the SARS epidemic earlier in 2002 where they were hit the most, while the West was largely spared. The SARS-Cov-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is not quite the same as SARS as it seems to be transmitted quite readily between people who are in close proximity to one another, although not so fatal.
The sorts of examples where transmission is easy are at parties, in stadiums attending pop concerts and sports events, in restaurants and movie theatres, on crowded public transport and crowded tenement blocks, where entry and exits are by crowded communal elevators. When it comes to an outbreak like COVID-19, Germany’s position with 5 different borders to monitor and a multitude of airports means that it has to think quite quickly what it is going to do.
First COVID-19 Case Confirmed Late January
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 reached Germany on 27th January 2020. This was in Munich, Bavaria. The next cluster of cases appeared to originate from the Munich headquarters of a car parts manufacturing company. Between the 25th and 26th February, there were further cases originating from the Italian outbreak in Baden-Württemberg. Later, a big cluster was formed, connected to a carnival venue which took place in Heinsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia. The first fatality wasn’t reported until 9th March. As the virus spread it was mostly being passed on by travellers from Italy, China and Iran who travelled by plane to the country.
Germany was taking advice from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) according to their national pandemic plan. In the first week of March, it advised that 10 million could be inflicted with the virus in the coming three months if stricter measures were not introduced. Lothar Wieler, who is the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), stated that the government’s present measures to reduce social contact in public spaces, closing all non-essential shops, sports, venues and bars, were vital for stemming the spread of COVID-19.
To begin with, Germany was just trying to contain the disease by trying to prevent movement out of the clusters into the wider community. It thought it had the whole situation well under control. From the 13th March, the response to the pandemic moved into the protection stage, with German states deciding to mandate the closing of schools and kindergartens, postponing academic institutions’ semesters and stopping people from visiting nursing homes, offering better protection for the elderly.
By 22nd March, the government response changed significantly. This was when a national curfew was announced. People were only permitted to leave their places of residence for specific activities such as commuting to work, taking part in sports activities and buying groceries. All these permitted activities were only allowed in groups of 2 if they were not sharing the same residence.
By April 14th, 132,210 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, but just 3,495 deaths and around 64,300 had recovered. The case fatality rate (CFR) reported in Germany is far lower than either Italy or Spain. It is believed the reason for this is due to Germany’s larger amounts of testing and far more intensive care beds available which include respiratory support, the lack of COVID-19 analyses in post-mortem testing and higher numbers of positive tests among young people. The Robert Koch Institute head has issued a warning that over time the death rate is likely to increase.