Yesterday, I wrote about how Germany’s coronavirus death numbers were extremely low compared to nearby countries. I noted that Germany had about the same number of reported cases as France (approximately 130,000 cases). Italy had about 155,000 cases. Spain had about 165,000. Yet, Germany was reporting only 3,022 deaths. France was reporting more than 14,000. Spain was reporting around 17,000 and Italy nearly 20,000. Looking at the numbers on a per capita basis revealed a similar picture.
I threw out three possible explanations for Germany’s comparatively low death count: (1) that Germany counts coronavirus deaths differently; (2) that Germany treats infected patients much more effectively; and (3) that Germany had a weaker strain of the virus.
Today, the Washington Post takes up the question mostly, it seems, for the purpose of slamming Boris Johnson’s response to the pandemic. France goes unmentioned. Spain and Italy are deemed, implausibly, to have done better than the UK did.
The Post tries its hand at explaining Germany’s low death rate. It suggests that early testing was a key factor.
It seems to me, however, that testing (coupled with tracing and isolation) can be expected to slow the infection rate, not the death rate per infection (because there is no known cure for this virus). Germany’s number of cases per 1 million people is actually higher than the UK’s. Yet its deaths per million people are less than one-quarter of the UK’s.
The Post seems bound and determined to attribute anything positive to testing. I assume it does so to advance its ability to bash Trump over America’s slowness in ramping up testing.
There is, though, an anomalous reason why testing might have helped produce a lower death rate in Germany. I discuss it at the end of this post.
The Post also points to superior German health care as an explanation for the low death rate. This is a plausible explanation — one I suggested yesterday.
The Post attributes superior German treatment of the virus in part to Germany’s universal health care system. But the UK, France, and Italy also have universal health care.
The Post offers another explanation that seems plausible — one I’ve seen elsewhere, but forgot to include in my earlier post. Reportedly, the infection spread to Germany via young people who were vacationing in southern Europe. Nearly all of these people, and the members of their age group whom they infected early on, survived.
The virus spread to older populations but, perhaps thanks to testing and tracing, that population was never as heavily infected as older populations in countries like Italy were.
Other things being equal, testing shouldn’t produce a lower death per infection rate. However, in Germany, other things don’t seem to have been equal because the population first hit by the virus was young and healthy.