Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

Germany’s 'Wuhan' has 15 per cent infection rate and low death toll

Study to examine the town where the first virus fatalities occurred yields surprise results

A quiet street in Gangelt of Germany's Heinsberg district, where the country's first big bunch of Covid-19 positive cases were reported. EPA
A quiet street in Gangelt of Germany's Heinsberg district, where the country's first big bunch of Covid-19 positive cases were reported. EPA

A study into Germany’s 'Wuhan' has revealed 15 per cent of the town, where the virus first stuck the country, have been infected but death rates have remained low.

Germany launched the Heinsberg Protocol study to examine the rural town of Gangelt in the region of Heinsberg, where the first virus fatalities occurred.

Unveiled on Thursday, the preliminary findings, using the results of 500 of the town's 12,000 inhabitants, showed that 15 per cent of the population was believed to have been infected.

But contrary to the national death rate, it revealed the mortality rate in the town would be 0.37 per cent. It is less than one-fifth of the mortality rate, based on confirmed positive tests in Germany as a whole, the researchers said.

The study is being led by professor Hendrik Streeck and researchers from the University Hospital Bonn.

It is hoping to test 1,000 people in the town and to date 85 per cent of them have given their permission to be tested.

Prof Streeck tweeted: "Thanks to everyone in #Heinsberg for making our study on #COVID-19 possible. Only thanks to you can we understand the virus increasingly better."

The study is using antibody tests to sample a random portion of the population.

The death rate – fatalities among those diagnosed – has appeared lower than that of the nation as a whole due to picking up mild cases of the virus which had previously gone unnoticed, researchers said.

In the Heinsberg region as a whole, less than 1 per cent of the population has tested positive for the virus, and 44 patients have died, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

The new research comes as Germany's health minister Jens Spahn revealed on Thursday that restrictions on public life are taking effect and are flattening the curve on new cases of the virus.

"The number of newly reported infections is flattening out, we are seeing a linear increase again rather than the dynamic, exponential increase we saw in mid-March," Mr Spahn said.

On Thursday, the national disease control centre announced it is planning to conduct a series of blood tests to determine how many people in the country are immune to Covid-19 and how many were infected without knowing it.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, says starting next week antibody tests will be carried out on blood given by donors around the country.

His institute anticipates up to 5,000 samples will be conducted every 14 days, with results starting in early May.

A second survey will examine blood from about 2,000 people from each of four infection 'hot spots' in Germany. And a third will look at a representative sample of some 15,000 people across the country, with results expected in June.

Germany has confirmed more than 113,000 infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 2,300 people have died, a death rate lower than many countries.

Updated: April 10, 2020 12:49 PM

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