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Fact Check: Does Germany have a higher coronavirus death rate than the US?

Germany now has a higher death rate from the coronavirus than the US, reported Berlin’s Tagesspiegel on Thursday. But is the headline statement really accurate? We took a closer look.

Fact Check: Does Germany have a higher coronavirus death rate than the US?
An ambulance in Meißen, Saxony, which has one of the highest coronavirus rates in all of Germany. Photo: DPA

In terms of sheer numbers, there is little doubt that the US has been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic than Germany since its outbreak in the early months of 2020.

The US, with a population of 328.2 million people, has reported 23.1 million coronavirus cases, and 385,000 deaths from the virus. Germany, with around 83 million inhabitants, as of Thursday reported a total of 1.99 million cases and over 44,000 deaths.

The US also has the highest number of new confirmed cases per million people in the population per seven days, currently at 703.8. The figure for Germany, which has the third highest number of new cases behind the UK, is 305.1.

READ ALSO: Opinion: What it feels like to be American in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic

Death rate in Germany vs. US

In terms of the death rate per capita, however, Germany began to overtake the US last week. An average of around 11 people per million in the population die from or with coronavirus every seven days, according the latest data from John Hopkins University published on Wednesday. 

This is above the figure from the US, where there's slightly less than 10 deaths per million in the population per week.

This also places Germany far above the EU average of around 7.5 deaths per million inhabitants in the last week.

Only the UK and the four EU countries – Sweden, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Portugal – are worse affected. The UK recorded the most deaths, or a seven day incidence of 23.1.

Germany currently has a fatality rate of 2.2 percent for all coronavirus cases, compared to 1.7 percent in the US, according to data published at the beginning of the week.


This graph shows the number of daily coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Graph: DPA

Different age distribution

The high death rate could also be related to the age distribution. People in Germany who die from or with coronavirus are older than in the US, and age plays a significant role in how serious of a course the virus can take.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 96 percent of those who die in Germany are older than 60, and just under 70 percent alone are older than 80.

In the US, 80 percent of coronavirus fatalities are older than 65, but only 60 percent are older than 75, according to figures from the US health authority CDC.

The fact that the US has significantly more confirmed infections, but fewer deaths in comparison, can also be explained by the fact that there is currently more testing in the US.

The US conducts an average of four tests per 1,000 inhabitants; in Germany, there's an average of over one test per 1,000 inhabitants.

The proportion of positive tests in the total number therefore gives a better picture of the incidence of infection – and coincides with the death figures.

At the beginning of the year, the so-called positive rate in Germany was just above that in the US, as was the number of people who died from or in connection with the coronavirus: In Germany it stood 16.1 percent at the beginning of January, versus 15 percent in the US.

The positive rate in Germany had never been this high before; in the US it had been well over 20 percent before. According to data from the RKI, the rate in Germany fell back below 13 percent this week; there is no comparable figure from the US as of this week. The chart below shows the positivity rates but only up until January 3rd.

Different strategies

Because of their respective situations, both countries are trying to speed up their vaccination campaigns. The US, which as of Tuesday has vaccinated nine million of its inhabitants, is already moving towards gradually inoculating all people over 65 with a vaccine.

READ ALSO: German health minister admits mistakes with Covid-19 vaccine strategy

In Germany, where only about 690,000 people have been vaccinated, it will take a little longer – but millions more vaccine doses have recently been ordered.

It’s only since October that Germany, initially lauded for its coronavirus management, saw infection numbers spike amid a much more potent second wave.

The US, on the other hand, has struggled with an exponential growth in infections since the beginning of the pandemic, with various states hitting their peak at different times.

Initially Germany was also praised for its widespread testing strategy, whereas the US was criticised for falling behind and putting too many bureaucratic obstacles in the way of receiving a test. 

READ ALSO: 'Nip the virus in the bud': How Germany showed Europe the way on coronavirus testing

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has been heavily criticised in recent months for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which he sometimes compared to a common flu.

After his election defeat in November, there was further criticism as he dealt with legal action to block the win of Democrat Joe Biden, rather than concentrating on the worsening pandemic.


Member comments

  1. Let’s all remember the saying: if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.
    Those of us who have been privileged to live in the two greatest countries in the World: USA and Germany should never forget just that: we are privileged beyond imagine!! Even with ALL of their faults they are the best. Politicians come and go, times change and “this too shall Pass” and hopefully the two greatest countries can welcome each other once again and be examples of pride in who they are and have the strength to show the world that the future can be bright! If you are an American be Proud If you are a German be proud! If you have dual citizenship be grateful!!

  2. Totally agree! Be proud of your new found status, be calm and obey the rules, so many don’t at the Moment!!

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.