Quick intervention prevented ‘up to 100,000’ coronavirus deaths in Germany, says top virologist

Quick intervention prevented 'up to 100,000' coronavirus deaths in Germany, says top virologist
German virologist Christian Drosten. Photo: DPA
Virologist Christian Drosten says without early testing and research, between 50,000 to 100,000 more coronavirus deaths would have occurred in Germany.

In an interview with German news magazine Spiegel, Drosten also said it's possible that there won't be a second wave of the pandemic in the country.

But if there is, Drosten said a strict lockdown could be avoided because the country is well-prepared.

Drosten, Director of the Instiute for Virology at the Berlin University Hospital Charité, is confident that the pandemic in Germany can be kept under control.

“Maybe we can avoid a second shutdown,” he said. He added that is now a “theoretical possibility” that Germany will “get through without a second wave”.

Science now has a better understanding of the infection process. “Now we know the virus better, we know how it spreads,” said Drosten, with reference to so-called superspreaders, who tend to pass the virus on to many people when infected.

“And such an occurrence of infection can be better controlled than a uniform spread under the radar, as we assumed at the beginning,” he said.

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It is important to detect and stop a possible outbreak early on by “quarantining all contact persons” without first carrying out lengthy tests, he said.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has coronavirus infections under control despite easing restrictions

Quarantine could be shorter

However, the quarantine period could be shortened considerably: in future, people who have come into contact with a coronavirus-infected person should only have to spend a week in isolation, because “the incubation period and the time in which one is contagious, all this is much shorter than initially thought”, said Drosten.

Currently the quarantine period is 14 days.

Germany is in a good situation, said the virologist. “We stopped a pandemic wave with comparatively mild measures, and we did it very efficiently.”

Unlike several other European countries, Germany allowed residents to go outside in groups of two during its lockdown, focussing instead on quickly shutting down non-essential businesses in mid-March.

It has now gradually been opening shops, restaurants and tourism infrastructure, but under strict hygiene and social distancing requirements.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany: Which restrictions are changing from Monday May 25th?

A large part of this successful disease control can be attributed to his research team at the Charité; without his coronavirus diagnostic test, Germany would have been less prepared for the pandemic.

Drosten said: “If we had not been able to test so early, if we had not informed the politicians – I believe we would now have 50,000 to 100,000 more deaths in Germany.”

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

As of Friday May 29th, there had been a total of 182,450 confirmed coronavirus infections in Germany (an increase of about 250 from the previous day) and 8,472 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

A total of 164,080 people are reported to have recovered from the disease.

Doubts about a vaccine

Meanwhile, the Director of the Institute of Virology at the University of Bonn, Hendrick Streeck, says he is sceptical about the prospect of finding a vaccine against Covid-19.

“More than 500 vaccines against HIV have already been developed, a few have been tested for effectiveness, but none has worked,” he told the Editorial Network Germany.

READ ALSO: How worried should we be when Germany reports a higher coronavirus infection rate?

He said people should be prepared for the possibility that a coronavirus vaccine is not on the horizon, adding that predictions about a point in time when it would arrive are “not serious”.

Nevertheless, Streeck believes that the virus remains controllable. He said there may be possible new outbreaks but that Germany could deal with it.

“This (an outbreak) will perhaps happen in the autumn in a more frequent and surprising way – but I don't believe that we will see a second wave that will literally flood and overwhelm us,” he said.


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