While cities in the USA and other countries are banning gatherings of 10, 25, 100, or some other arbitrary number (because apparently the mayors and governors think the virus can only spread if there’s an 11th, 26th, or 101st person), German Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided to ban “gatherings” of two or more people.
German authorities announced a ban on gatherings of more than two people as the country scrambles to address the novel coronavirus outbreak.
In a press conference aired Sunday evening local time, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet said the government was aiming to cut down on contact between Germans outside of their immediate families and the policy would be enforced by police and local authorities.
The ban, which does not apply to families, would be take effect on March 23 until the Easter holidays around April 19, and violators could expect fines up to 25,000 EUR (26,908.75 USD,) Laschet said.
The rules were decided at a Sunday afternoon meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 states. In a press conference after Lascher’s remarks, Merkel emphasized that the government strongly encouraged those in Germany to stay in their homes, and when in public, keep a space of at least 1.5 meters from other people.
Bloomberg reported that a person familiar with her thought process told the outlet that the decision came after much tension among the German states, as Chancellor Angela Merkel did not want to pursue a lockdown for fear “that such a measure could backfire, but wants a more coordinated approach on restrictions to public life.”
As of March 22, the country had 23,921 identified cases and 92 deaths. The move came days after Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff, told German newspaper Der Spiegel that authorities were closely monitoring citizens over the weekend for guidance on whether or not to impose harsher restrictions on gatherings.
Wait, only 92 deaths out of 23,921 positive diagnoses? That’s an incredibly low mortality rate. How does Germany have such a low percentage of deaths? NPR explains:
As confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Germany soared past 10,000 last week, hundreds of Berliners crowded Volkspark am Friedrichshain to play soccer and basketball, and to let their kids loose on the park’s many jungle gyms.
The conditions seemed ideal for the spread of a virus that has killed thousands. Indeed, as of Wednesday, Germany had the fifth-highest number of cases.
Yet Germany’s fatality rate so far — just 0.5% — is the world’s lowest, by a long shot.
“I believe that we are just testing much more than in other countries, and we are detecting our outbreak early,” said Christian Drosten, director of the institute of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital.
As Europe has become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, Italy’s fatality rate hovers around 10%. France’s is around 5%. Yet Germany’s fatality rate from COVID-19 has remained remarkably low since cases started showing up there more than a month ago. As of March 25, there were 175 deaths and 34,055 cases.
Drosten, whose team of researchers developed the first COVID-19 test used in the public domain, said Germany’s low fatality rate is because of his country’s ability to test early and often. He estimates Germany has been testing around 120,000 people a week for COVID-19 during the monthlong period from late February to now, when it’s reached epidemic proportions in the country, the most extensive testing regimen in the world.
And that means Germany is more likely to have a lower number of undetected cases than other countries where testing is less prevalent, which raises the question: Why is Germany testing so much?
“We have a culture here in Germany that is actually not supporting a centralized diagnostic system,” said Drosten, “so Germany does not have a public health laboratory that would restrict other labs from doing the tests. So we had an open market from the beginning.”
In other words, Germany’s equivalent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the Robert Koch Institute — makes recommendations but does not call the shots on testing for the entire country. Germany’s 16 federal states make their own decisions on coronavirus testing because each of them is responsible for their own health care systems.
Drosten said that has meant quicker, earlier and more widespread testing for COVID-19 in Germany than in other countries.
Meanwhile, in states such as California, 48,000 people are still waiting for a diagnosis on their tests and officials in Oregon are working to hide data from the public.