Correspondence: Coronavirus Testing: Some Facts about Germany
12 April 2020
Regular readers of SD will be aware that I have bemoaned the fact that many European Governments have been slow to begin testing for the prevalence of the coronavirus. It is common sense to see that no rational social policy can be enacted without a good awareness of the extent of the spread of the virus within the population. Not having the medical facilities to cope with a surge of patients is one failing, dependent as it is on the historic level of investment allocated to Public Health, not being able to even determine how many people are infected is another thing and should not have been so constrained and faltering from the outset.
Consider the case of Germany as an example, while it is true that it is a prosperous society, this is not the only reason for its comparative success at reacting to the threat of the corona disease. The fact is that Germany was way more prepared than other prosperous societies to tackle the threat. In 1995 in agreement with the German Federal Ministry of Health a specific institution was set up with a clear mandate: The general goal of this system is to improve the efficiency of infection protection by advising the authorities on possible measures and to supplement infectious disease surveillance by monitoring selected pathogens that have high public health relevance.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) employs over one thousand people, including 400 biologists, with a remit to supervise public, private and university laboratories to monitor infectious diseases. It supervises 20 National Reference Centres and 38 Consultant Laboratories. These labs are spread out right across Germany, they monitor and report any local evidence of infectious disease. The German health service had a diagnostic test for SARS 2 ready and working by January 26th, an impressive response time given that the first confirmed case outside of China was only reported on 12th January in Australia. Then by the middle of March they had created as many as 4 million test kits, so reliable that they were the ones requested by the WHO. As of this week the German authorities are testing 500,000 people per day. Added to that the German authorities are checking the swab tests of other countries in their laboratories, the Irish Government relies on Germany to process the swab tests of its citizens.
When you look at the figures for testing per thousand of population, Germany is not the best, however many of the countries below which register better figures have smaller populations.
Per thousand of population:
|Iceland 90.05||Italy 14.30||Canada 9.93||Holland 5.92||Malaysia 1.93||Pakistan 0.22|
|Bahrain 32.45||Australia 13.00||S.Korea 9.6||Sweden 5.4||South Africa 1.09||Senegal 0.14|
|Norway 22.21||Lithuania 11.5||Ireland 8.69||UK 3.62||Equator 0.9||India 0.09|
|Switzerland 20.59||New Zealand 10.59||Belgium 7.75||France 3.5||Tunisia 0.76||Indonesia 0.06|
|Estonia 20.31||Czech Republic 10.5||Finland 7.2||Turkey 3.3||Japan 0.51||Philippines 0.04|
|Germany 15.97||Denmark 10.07||USA 6.63||Greece 2.5||Thailand 0.39|
The people of Ireland are under the illusion that the Dublin government is doing very well when it comes to testing, this is only true if the comparison is made with UK and the USA, in point of fact Ireland is not gold standard level, it gets only a bronze medal, and it should be pointed out that it is beholden to Germany for a lot of its testing results.
New German study of incidence of spread
We now have some of the results of the first genuine study of the incidence of the immune anti-body in a random human population. Recall that there are two sorts of tests, one is called an antigen test and is the one used by medical staff to find out if a person has the disease after having presented with symptoms. The other test is the one social scientists are more interested in, this is called an anti-body test and informs just how many people may have had the virus without getting symptoms or feeling ill. A study undertaken by the University of Bonn used sampling to test 1,000 people in one German town and discovered that 15% percent of them had the anti-body. It is too small a sample to base strong public policy recommendations upon, though it does tend to confirm that it is likely that we are still a long way from the hoped for 'Herd Immunity', especially when you combine the findings of this study with another one taken in Austria where it was discovered that only about 1% of the tested sample had a trace of the anti-body. Recall that those agitating for a herd immunity solution have a target of at least a 60% infection rate. It is good that this empirical test has been conducted and we certainly need such testing to expand as it provides real evidence as opposed to mathematical modelling about the current state of the infection. Some people were quick to use a hypothetical conjecture made by some Oxford academics to call for a radical change in Government policy on the assumption that 60% of the British people had already been infected with the corona virus. The radical policy change asked for was of course sending all workers back to the place they had just come from, having no knowledge that a potentially lethal virus was circulating in the work environment. Unfortunately a few self-declared Marxists have been in favour of the herd immunity strategy, ‘herd immunity is just the scientific term for vaccination by natural infection’. Intervening with a commentary on an article by economist Michael Roberts, the fake Marxist called Boffy’ claimed ‘in Europe and North America and in Japan, its likely that nearly half the population is already infected’. We can certainly say that there is no empirical evidence for believing half the workers can safely return to work because they have already been infected without knowing about it. Workers and those who purport to support them need to be sure that the virus is beaten or well in retreat before they recommend a return to normal working conditions.