KEY POINTS

  • Germany's mortality rate from COVID-19 stands at 0.4%
  • This compares to Italy's 9.5%,France's 4.3%, and South Korea's 1.2%
  • Early detection and isolation of infection clusters was the key

Germany is number five on the list of the most infected COVID-19 countries in the world, with 32,991 confirmed cases as of Tuesday evening. It also reported 159 deaths, ranking it ninth on the global death list.

But it's not these obvious statistics that's making Germany a standout among countries battling against COVID-19. What's gotten the attention of other countries is Germany's relatively small mortality rate of just 0.4%. Germany's mortality rate compares very favorably to Italy's 9.5%, France's 4.3% and South Korea's 1.2%, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University.

German medical experts agree the reason for Germany's laudably low mortality rate is the hard work the country's health authorities put in during the early days of the pandemic January to identify and isolate infection clusters. Germany meticulously tracked, tested and contained these clusters, giving it an accurate picture of the outbreak's extent and penetration. When a person tested positive, health personnel used contact-tracing to reveal the identities of other people this person had been in contact with, tested and quarantined them when necessary. These steps broke infection chains.

Accurate data and decisive actions also allowed German doctors to test only the obviously symptomatic, most seriously ill or highest-risk patients, helping contain the coronavirus' spread. Unrelenting testing has been key to Germany's success in containing the outbreak.

“At the beginning, when we had relatively few cases, when it came to finding them and isolating them, we did quite well in Germany,” said Reinhard Busse, head of the department of health care management at the Berlin University of Technology. “That’s the major reason.”

Germany’s high diagnostic capacity had “secured us an extreme lead . . . in the detection of the epidemic," said Christian Drosten, a virologist at the Charité hospital in Berlin.

COVID-19, however, continues to rage inside Germany. To secure the upper hand over the outbreak, Germany has expanded its guidelines and boosted testing over the past weeks. The number of people tested jumped from 35,000 in the first week of March to 100,000 in the second. This huge total doesn't include tests conducted inside hospitals.

There is little chance of Germany taking the terrible path now trod by Italy, which leads the world in the number of COVID-19 deaths and has the second highest number of infections. Germany has more intensive care beds and ventilators than most other European countries. Epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach, a member of the German parliament, doesn't see Germany turning into Italy or Spain.

“I think with all things considered, Germany will do reasonably well in this first round of a long fight,” he said.