The coronavirus pandemic seems unstoppable right now when you see how it has affected Western countries with advanced healthcare systems and strong economies. Countries including Italy, America, Spain, Germany, and France have all reported more than 25,000 COVID-19 cases each. Italy and Spain are the hardest-hit countries, with over 130,000 cases including 11,000 fatalities between them. The combined death toll for Italy and Spain accounts for half of the number of COVID-19 victims worldwide, which sits at over 23,000 at the time of writing. France and the US have reported more than 1,000 coronavirus fatalities each — France has over 29,000 cases and the US is pushing 80,000.
That’s why Germany’s statistics don’t add up when compared to other countries. Germany has reported over 41,000 cases as of Thursday afternoon local time, but just 236 fatalities. Germany’s secret is exactly what you might expect it to be: Extensive testing for the novel coronavirus that’s wreaking havoc around the world.
The low death rate is directly correlated with the high number of tests performed in the country, virologist Christian Drosten said during an event in Germany to promote coronavirus research. Germany was carrying out “extremely high numbers” of tests, per Reuters. The average number is around 500,000 a week, or more than 70,000 a day.
That’s a huge number, but it’s the best way of taking on the virus. The researcher said that the high number of tests give authorities a better understanding of the bigger picture. They’re aware of every coronavirus case, including the milder ones, which explains the huge discrepancy between Germany and other countries in Europe when it comes to the fatality rate.
Germany is a country of over 82 million people and could very well report even more cases in the coming days. But the faster that patients are identified, the faster they can get on therapies and trials that have proven to be effective elsewhere. An early diagnosis means fast access to professional help even for milder cases. But fast diagnoses will especially help at-risk patients who can be assisted and observed well before the onset of symptoms. Discovering coronavirus cases that may be asymptomatic can significantly slow down the disease as well.
Even so, those with weaker immune systems will die. Not even Germany’s medical system, which has access to at least 25,000 ventilators according to recent estimates, can keep everyone alive. But Germany’s extensive testing could save plenty of lives and significantly reduce transmission rates.
If this sounds familiar, it's because we’ve already seen it happen in South Korea. About a month ago, Korea seemed to be the world’s second-largest coronavirus hot spot after China. But the country managed to flatten the curve in record time. South Korea has reported over 9,100 cases, but just 131 fatalities. More importantly, over 4,100 people have been declared recovered, which means South Korea has been able to significantly reduce the pressure on its medical system. Japan and Singapore are other examples where local authorities have been able to flatten the curve.