Germany has drawn praise for its wide Covid-19 testing—by the end of April, it had increased its capacity to more than 860,000 tests per week—but an organized approach to contact tracing and quarantines might be more important.
Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
May 27, 2020
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Germany rolled out a tracing program early, Loveday Morris and Luisa Beck report for The Washington Post: “As the United Kingdom and the United States scramble to hire teams of contact tracers, local health authorities across Germany have used contact scouts … since they confirmed their first cases early this year.” Interestingly, for all the attention testing has gotten, one local official tells Beck and Morris that it’s not a point of emphasis. “‘There are two things: the contact tracing and the quarantine,’ [Patrick] Larscheid [who heads the public health department in Berlin’s Reinickendorf district] said. In Germany, the contacts of a positive coronavirus case are not generally tested unless they have symptoms. ‘Testing is nice, but if you’re tested or not tested and are in quarantine, it makes no difference,’ Larscheid said. Testing could also lull someone into a false sense of security, he said—a negative result might mean it’s just too early for an infection to register on a test.”
Tracing has been seen as key to successes against Covid-19 in East Asia, but it has also involved heavy surveillance: In Taiwan, a GPS-based system tracks quarantined individuals’ phone locations every ten minutes, alerting local government and police after two failed or errant pings. Hong Kong is using apps and wristbands to enforce mandatory quarantines. But in Germany, where digital privacy is a big concern, Morris and Beck report that things are done in low tech fashion, as tracers call and interview infected people by phone, noting their movements and contacts and following up with those who may have been exposed. Based on level of exposure, 14-day quarantines are either mandatory or advised.
Something about Germany’s approach seems to have worked: Per Johns Hopkins data, Germany has seen just over 10 deaths per 100,000 people, 18th among large countries and much lower than the nearly 82 seen in Belgium, just over 58 in Spain, nearly 56 in the UK, and over 30 in the US.