2007 - 2020

Herd Mutiny – Notes from Berlin in the Time of Coronavirus


April 16th 2020: I wrote the following account of the coronavirus crisis here in Berlin in the weekend of March 13th to 16th, but I was unable to submit it at that time because I myself became ill with Covid-19. I assumed that a month later it was no longer relevant, but UK commentators are now presenting erroneous reports about Germany’s response to the crisis, so I offer this as a corrective.[1] I have not changed the following text since March 16th, but have added an update at the end.

Key point: The pursuit of ‘herd immunity’ and similar strategies was an EU-wide failure, not just a UK one, which was abandoned here in Germany in the days around March 13th in a sudden and chaotic government response to public and political pressure.

Monday, March 16th 2020

Time gets strange when things start happening fast. Last Monday I was somewhat embarrassed to be asking a shop to post me some items I had planned to pick up in person. The shop is located inside Berlin’s largest hospital, the Charité, which had recorded the city’s first case of coronavirus a week previously.[2] It seemed foolish to make an unnecessary trip there, bringing lord knows what viral hitchhikers in or out of it with me, but I still felt like a bit of a drama queen explaining that to the shop assistant. By Wednesday I was considering, and by Thursday had decided, that I should skip lunch with a friend, nowhere near a hospital but simply because it was an avoidable meeting. When Angela Merkel announced on Thursday night that we should all ‘refrain from social contact’ it already felt like she was stating the obvious. On Friday I made a list of supplies I need in order to stay home for a fortnight and checked the Red Cross website for a location where I can give blood within two or three miles’ walking distance. I am staying off public transport, but they are going to need the blood. By Friday, Monday felt like weeks ago.

Nobody has told me to do these things, but I get the impression that most other Berliners also went through the same shift in perspective in the course of the past week. Last weekend everyone was apparently still going about their business as usual, though the sparse shelves of tinned and dry foods told a rather different story and there were only two conversations: slightly furtive discussions of steps we were taking – from cancelled foreign holidays to wearing gloves while shopping – alternated roughly 50/50 with ‘It’s only a flu.’ But over the week the cafes emptied and elsewhere too there were clearly fewer people about. The ‘flu’ conversation stopped. This Saturday a note went up in my close from a neighbour offering help if any of us need to isolate ourselves. Anyone who knows Berlin will realise that this last development really is a harbinger of the apocalypse: the city takes immense pride in its grumpiness and people keep themselves to themselves, something a Glaswegian like me struggles with. In this odd new time, even my Berlin neighbours sending me ‘greetings and neighbourly solidarity’ feels normal now.

I checked on Friday to find out if/when the library where I usually work would be shutting down. I was relieved to learn that it would close that night until further notice. Note: relieved. Not disgruntled or even surprised. No one had mentioned the possibility of it closing before it happened, but by Friday it already felt overdue. All the universities, libraries, swimming pools and sports centres in the city shut at the same time. People were angry that it would take until Tuesday to pass legislation to close the clubs, allowing the weekend’s events to go ahead before the shutdown. At the start of the week more than half the Berlin infections had been traced to two nightclub events: close contact in confined spaces is a very bad idea.[3] But most of the clubs closed voluntarily in advance of the official ban, which was finally passed in an emergency session of the city’s parliament on Saturday because public criticism of the delay was so fierce.[4]

This has been the pattern of the coronavirus response in Germany – pressure from the public, individual institutions and businesses taking matters into their own hands and a patchwork of lower-level government officials speaking out of turn, while the federal and state-level authorities belatedly catch up. Official communications and decisions have been chaotic, with different levels of government openly quarrelling. Sample health checks on the border began on Thursday – but only in Germany’s smallest state, Saarland, on its own initiative.[5] The same day the Federal Education Minister Anna Karliczek and the Minister-President of Bavaria Markus Söder were contradicting each other at press conferences on whether it would be better to close the schools or not, with the state and federal authorities unable to reach an agreement, despite holding a summit specifically to make that decision. It was Halle, a relatively small city in eastern Germany, that went ahead with the first total closure of schools, kindergartens and universities.[6] Within a couple of days the rest of the country, bit by bit, has followed that lead.[7] On whether to ban large events, state- and federal-level politicians have spent a week trying to goad each other into ordering a ban and so bearing the financial liability for cancellation costs. In the midst of this game of ministerial chicken, Berlin’s public health officers were reduced to sending an open letter via the press to the city government – their own bosses – imploring them to announce a general ban on events, not just large ones, and especially sports events and nightclubs or theatres.[8] The city government, a three-party coalition, has been fighting among itself, each party claiming that the other is either jumping the gun or not doing enough. The city-owned theatres were closed in part on Tuesday,[9] and in full on Thursday, along with the universities and the other municipal cultural or sports venues.[10] As for any closures that would risk costs, everyone dragged their feet, with the mayor insisting that they should wait for a Germany-wide decision that never came. On Friday evening the ban was still going to happen in its own sweet time, until the panicked emergency meeting the next day closed all pubs, clubs, fitness studios and bordellos. Private parties, too, are banned over 50 participants and only permitted below 50 if the organisers take everyone’s name and number.[11]

At Federal level Merkel kept out of it until last week, leaving the coronavirus response to the Health Minister, her Christian Democrat colleague Jens Spahn. He failed to cancel the Rhineland carnivals in late February, despite plenty of calls to do so; they became the key moment at which single, traceable cases of the virus turned into untraceable community spread in Germany.[12] He chose to ‘recommend’ event closures in a comment to the press, rather than ban them by law, so he could shirk liability for ordering them while also passing the blame for not doing so to anyone who declined his recommendation.[13] The Christian Democrats are in the middle of a leadership contest, with the winner also becoming Merkel’s likely heir as chancellor, and Spahn is one of the main contenders. An alt-right provocateur, in his career he has followed what was, until now, a winning formula: cruelty to vulnerable foreigners. In government he assisted his patron Wolfgang Schäuble in the economic collective punishment of Greece in 2015 and has attacked Merkel’s initial welcome of refugees for having ‘too much emphasis on the humanitarian’.[14] That is presumably the rationale to his horrible decision – the one active step he has dared to take, already on March 6th – of banning exports of clinical facemasks out of Germany, which is one of the world’s major suppliers.[15] Italy is running out. Thank God China has stepped in to fill the gap.[16] So much for European solidarity.

This weekend Angela Merkel took over, bypassing Spahn, and, together with the leaders of the federal states affected, closed almost all of Germany’s borders except to goods transport and cross-border commuting. Just one week after I had been embarrassed to ask for postal delivery, I got an email from my local bookshop recommending it and reducing their opening hours in order to cut down unnecessary contacts, ‘unless of course this is superseded by a general closure of shops’. The expected directive came later the same day.[17] Once again, we expected it before it happened. And all of this is absolutely fine by me.

I have seen comments in the UK press calling these measures ‘draconian’. The Athenian lawmaker Dracon was famous for having people killed for the most trivial reasons, so these are anti-draconian measures: they are keeping people alive. I feel much, much safer. My main fear now is for my friends and family in the UK.

*          *          *

Compared to the chaotic government response in Germany, the UK at first seemed to me to be a model of good order. I like it when all four parts of the UK work together and present a united front. And Nicola Sturgeon has a wonderfully soothing manner. But then I paid attention to the content, rather than the presentation, of the planning in both Scotland and the UK, and it terrifies me. The Scottish and UK plan of ‘flattening the curve’ instead of seeking to contain the virus entirely was also that of the EU and EEA as a whole, including Germany, until this weekend.[18] In a press conference on Wednesday together with the minister Spahn, the president of the Robert Koch Institute, which is responsible for national public health advice in Germany, explained in a placid, reassuring voice that it was inevitable that the virus would spread to ‘60 to 70 %’ of the population, so the goal was just to slow its spread as much as possible.[19] The problem is that this plan has gone terribly, dreadfully wrong. The Italian and Spanish experience has demonstrated that it is not possible to manage the spread of this virus in such a way that it stays within the available healthcare capacity, no matter how hard you try to hammer the curve flat.[20] And the Chinese and South Korean response has shown that there is an alternative approach that saves – literally – millions of lives by restricting the infection to as tiny a part of the population as possible. Italy has already switched to this Asian approach and the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has urged everyone to adopt it.[21] Yet governments in Germany only seem to have noticed the problem in their approach after Merkel repeated the 60/70% prognosis mid-week as if it were unremarkable common sense, and the money markets collectively passed out.[22] Say what you like about bankers, at least they can count: with 60 or 70% of the population infected, and mortality rates of 6.2% recorded in Italy, we should expect around 3.4 million deaths in Germany. The chaos in the German government positions seems to have been the result of people at all levels inside and outside government gradually mutinying as they realised for themselves that the original plan doesn’t work and is recklessly cavalier with people’s lives. The original planning accepts the biggest natural disaster in human history,[23] but tries to mitigate it somewhat, even though we are still – just – in a position to halt it.

By now only the Brits are sticking to the original idea. People (though not governments) here in Germany are horrified. No one could understand why the Ibrox game against Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday was open to fans. The return leg was due to be a ‘ghost match’ as they’re called here: played with no fans in a spookily empty stadium. But, again, that was not due to the national government, but to a group of federal states which decided to ban large events.[24] And it was not the government but a football association that ultimately called off the rest of the competition.[25] Leverkusen is on the lower Rhine. Remember those carnivals that didn’t get cancelled in February? Same area. The region now has by far the highest incidence of coronavirus in Germany. It is a grim thought, but it is very likely that some Glaswegians will die who would have lived if either the Scottish government or Glasgow City Council had kept the supporters at home that night. It just takes one infected person to have passed through the city. Each person infected by them will go on to spread the infection to dozens of others, each of whom then does the same. The now large outbreak in the Rhineland started with just one couple who returned from northern Italy and went to a carnival party in mid-February.[26] No one had told them not to.

Even if the Bayer fans came to Glasgow, there should have been health checks at the airport. As the World Health Organisation has instructed repeatedly, the aim is not just vaguely to slow the spread, as in the UK plan, but to track down every single infection and isolate it.[27] Each individual case matters. The reason for banning large events is not only the transmission itself, but the fact that it becomes impossible to trace an infected person’s contacts and test those people too. If someone at a match or a concert tests positive, how can you find whoever else they may have infected? You don’t know the names of the people who sat next to you. This is also why there have been two different views on closing schools. Schools may (arguably) not be a huge source of transmission, but they are a nightmare for tracing: if one kid tests positive for the infection, you’d have to test the whole school and all their families to find out where it came from and where it went.[28] So if, as in the UK, you are not doing contact tracing, then keeping schools open may not be a big deal, but you should be doing contact tracing, so it is a big deal.

Until Friday, the UK plan, or something similar to it, seems to have been the consensus of government public health planning throughout Europe. But science doesn’t stand still. What may (perhaps) have been a viable plan whenever it was first drawn up has been refuted and superseded since then. In the history of this virus outbreak, an aeon has passed since late February, just a couple of weeks ago. As I said: time gets strange when things start happening fast. It is heartbreaking and terrifying to read the pleas from doctors in Italy begging the rest of Europe to act faster while there is still time.[29] And then comparing them to reports from China that, even with the gradual lifting of restrictions, infections are not resurging – monitoring is still required, but it’s no worse than what most Westerners volunteer for by using Facebook or Google.[30] If Italy had switched to the Chinese approach ten days sooner, the number of deaths could have been reduced dramatically.[31] And the latest word from China is that the sooner you start, the sooner you can lift the restrictions. [32] Everywhere bar Britain the message seems, finally, to be getting through.

I can only appeal to people in the UK: Don’t wait for your governments to act. We didn’t wait. Act now, and shame them into following your lead. Stay home if you can. Restate a casa. If you can’t, try to avoid public transport. Sports groups: just cancel everything.[33] And give blood. If that seems excessive to you, you are still where I was last Monday. You need to get to Friday fast.

Update, April 16th 2020:

The UK government was forced to admit on March 16th that its planning would cause catastrophic numbers of deaths.[34] Yet it still took another week (until March 23) to enact shutdowns and nationwide social distancing, the minimum first step in switching to the WHO approach.[35] Even now, the UK and Scottish governments have not applied the full WHO recommendations – to trace and isolate all cases of infection and their contacts – but have merely accelerated the stages of their original plan.

In Germany too there has been lagging and backsliding in applying the East Asian/WHO strategy. Already on March 16th in Poland testers in full protective suits were conducting health checks on all border traffic; on the same day on most of the German border unprotected policemen were checking passports instead.[36] Today, a month later, Poland has 268 recorded deaths from Covid-19,[37] Germany has 3529,[38] the UK has at least 12,868,[39] with 1095 in Scotland.[40] Scotland, with just a seventh of the population of Poland, has more than four times as many dead. All these figures may be undercounts, but there is no reason to suspect the relative orders of magnitude, which are what we would expect to result from the different countries’ policies and their timing, given the exponential growth of the unchecked virus. Other East European countries that took similar responses to that of Poland also have low death counts.[41] Slovakia has almost exactly the same population as Scotland and has suffered only two deaths from the disease.[42]

This matters not only for the inevitable inquiry into what went wrong in the UK response – and we can surely all now agree that it has gone badly wrong – but because the same people are in charge and similar mistakes may yet be made. I welcome the First Minister’s statement today that exit from the current lockdown will focus on a ‘test, trace and isolate’ approach,[43] but I see no evidence of preparations for it. For a sense of the task: based on recommendations for Ireland, much the same size as Scotland, effective contact tracing will require 5000 staff.[44] Are they being seconded or recruited right now? They need to be.

 

Notes

[1] E.g. https://www.buzzfeed.com/albertonardelli/coronavirus-timeline-uk-germany-comparison-johnson-merkel Alberto Nardelli, Alex Wickham, Ben King, ‘The Coronavirus Hit Germany And The UK Just Days Apart But The Countries Have Responded Differently. Here’s How.’ Buzzfeed News, 12.04.2020.

[2] https://www.welt.de/regionales/berlin/article206256073/Erster-Coronavirus-Fall-in-Berlin-Patient-in-Charite.html ‘Erster Corona-Fall in Berlin: Patient in Charité’, Die Welt, 02.03.2020 (via the DPA).

[3] https://www.rbb24.de/panorama/thema/2020/coronavirus/beitraege/corona-berlin-clubs-the-reed-trompete.html ‘26 Corona-Infizierte feierten in Berliner Clubs’ RBB24, 10.03.2020

[4] https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/mensch-metropole/coronavirus-berlin-diese-regeln-gelten-ab-sofort-fuer-berliner-im-corona-shutdown-li.78549 Annika Leister, ‘Diese Regeln gelten seit Samstag für Berliner im Corona-Shutdown’ Berliner Zeitung, 14.03.2020

[5] https://homburg1.de/saarland-saarland-fuehrt-coronavirus-grenzkontrollen-ab-heute-durch-einreise-kann-untersagt-werden-92506/?cn-reloaded=1 ‘Saarland führt Coronavirus-Grenzkontrollen ab heute durch – Einreise kann untersagt werden’ Homburg1, 12.03.2020.

[6] https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/sendung/ts-36085.html ARD Tagesschau, 8pm, 12.03.2020, Bernd Wiegand, mayor of Halle, from 02:00. Karliczek and Söder from 02:20.

[7] https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/corona-schulschliessungen-101.html ‘Fast alle Länder schließen Schulen und Kitas’ ARD Tagesschau, 14.03.2020.

[8] https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/kampf-gegen-das-coronavirus-amtsaerzte-fordern-sogar-absage-aller-veranstaltungen-in-berlin/25632006.html Felix Hackenbruch, ‘Amtsärzte fordern sogar Absage aller Veranstaltungen in Berlin’, Der Tagesspiegel 11.03.2020.

[9] https://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/kampf-gegen-das-coronavirus-berlin-verbietet-keine-veranstaltungen-schliesst-aber-seine-buehnen/25626330.html Felix Hackenbruch, Hannes Hähne, Kai Gies, ‘Berlin verbietet keine Veranstaltung, schließt aber seine Bühnen’, Der Tagesspiegel 10.03.2020.

[10] https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/kultur-vergnuegen/kultursenator-lederer-ordnet-weitere-schliessungen-an-li.78378 Harry Nutt, ‘Kultursenator Lederer ordnet weitere Schließungen an” Berliner Zeitung, 12.03.2020.

[11] https://www.berliner-zeitung.de/mensch-metropole/coronavirus-berlin-diese-regeln-gelten-ab-sofort-fuer-berliner-im-corona-shutdown-li.78549 Annika Leister, ‘Diese Regeln gelten seit Samstag für Berliner im Corona-Shutdown’, Berliner Zeitung 14.3.2020.

[12] https://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/gesundheit/coronavirus/coronavirus-krisenstab-in-nrw-sucht-300-karnevalsbesucher-16652280.html ‘Coronavirus-Krisenstab sucht 300 Karnevalsbesucher’, FAZ 26.02.2020.

[13] https://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/gesundheit/coronavirus-jens-spahn-empfiehlt-absage-von-grossveranstaltungen-16669120.html ‘Spahn empfiehlt Absage von Großveranstaltungen’, FAZ 08.03.2020.

[14] https://www.merkur.de/politik/cdu-mann-jens-spahn-koenig-konservativen-8501886.html Sophie Rohrmeier, ‘CDU-Mann Spahn: Der König der Konservativen’ Merkur, 29.08.2017; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-germany-idUSKCN0WM0NE Michelle Martin, ‘Merkel ally says Germany has changed course in refugee crisis’, Reuters 20.03.2016

[15] https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/coronavirus-wie-die-solidaritaet-der-eu-staaten-in-der-krise-broeckelt-a-6c8ae659-d717-4f8d-91e5-223c4505ab53 Markus Becker, Peter Müller, ‘Keiner für alle, alles für einen’, Der Spiegel, 06.03.2020. Export licenses to Italy have been granted on a case-by-case basis, but the rule has also halted deliveries from China that are routed through Germany: https://www.ilgiorno.it/sondrio/cronaca/coronavirus-mascherine-1.5066299 G.M., ‘Coronavirus, 830mila mascherine destinate a tute gialle e ospedali bloccate in Germania’, Il Giorno, 13.03.2020.

[16] https://www.repubblica.it/solidarieta/volontariato/2020/03/13/news/coronavirus_a_fiumicino_un_aereo_con_aiuti_della_croce_rossa_cinese_ventilatori_elettrocardiografi_mascherine-251147937/ ‘Coronavirus, a Fiumicino un aereo con aiuti della Croce Rossa cinese: ventilatori, elettrocardiografi, mascherine’, La Repubblica, 13.03.2020.

[17] https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/sendung/ts-36147.html ARD Tagesschau, 8 pm, 16.03.2020, first item.

[18] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/rapid-risk-assessment-novel-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-pandemic-increased European Centre for Disease Control (an EU agency) ‘Rapid risk assessment: Novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: increased transmission in the EU/EEA and the UK – sixth update’, 12.03.2020. To judge from the executive summary, the recommendations are the same or similar to the UK plan; from the inclusion of the UK in the document title, I assume it is the UK plan. Only in the daily update the following day is there a passing reference to what looks like the Chinese/South Korean approach: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/current-risk-assessment-novel-coronavirus-situation ‘Daily risk assessment on COVID-19, 13 March 2020’; the rest of that update could fairly be paraphrased as ‘everything’s on fire’.

[19] https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/sendung/ts-36071.html ARD Tageschau, 11.03.2020, 8 pm, from 3:40: comments by Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn about slowing spread, followed by the famous/notorious graph about flattening the curve, and from 4:30 Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute states that 60-70% of the population will be infected by the virus, and that the goal is just to slow the spread.

[20] https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020-03-13/hemos-pecado-de-exceso-de-confianza-nadie-pensaba-en-esto.html Oriol Güell, ‘“Hemos pecado de exceso de confianza. Nadie pensaba en esto”’ El Pais, 14.03.2020. Interview with Santiago Morenos, head of Infectious Diseases at Madrid’s Ramon y Cajal hospital: ‘We are guilty of over-confidence. No one imagined this’.

[21] https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—9-march-2020 ‘WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 9 March 2020’.

[22] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2020/03/11/why-angela-merkel-is-wrong-on-her-coronavirus-infection-prediction/#1c3397744af5 Kenneth Raposa, ‘We Should All Hope Angela Merkel Is Wrong On Her Coronavirus Infection Prediction’, Forbes 11.03.2020. Text of Merkel’s comments: https://www.bundeskanzlerin.de/bkin-de/aktuelles/pressekonferenz-von-bundeskanzlerin-merkel-bundesgesundheitsminister-spahn-und-rki-chef-wieler-1729940 Office of the Federal Chancellor, ‘Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel, Bundesgesundheitsminister Spahn und RKI-Chef Wieler. Thema: Coronavirus’, 11.03.2020.

[23] https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n06/rupert-beale/short-cuts Rupert Beale, ‘Wash Your Hands’ London Review of Books 24/6, 19.03.2020 (article dated 06.03.2020).

[24] https://www.zdf.de/sport/geisterspiele-bundesliga-100.html ‘Kompletter Spieltag ohne Zuschauer’ ZDF, 12.03.2020.

[25] https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/european/coronavirus-champions-league-europa-cancelled-postponed-uefa-statement-a9399216.html Jack DeMenezes, ‘Coronavirus: Champions League and Europa League matches postponed, Uefa confirms’, The Independent, 13.03.2020.

[26] https://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/gesundheit/coronavirus/coronavirus-krisenstab-in-nrw-sucht-300-karnevalsbesucher-16652280.html ‘Coronavirus-Krisenstab sucht 300 Karnevalsbesucher’ FAZ 26.02.2020.

[27] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/16/who-says-some-nations-arent-running-enough-coronavirus-tests-test-every-suspected-case.html William Feuer, Noah Higgins-Dunn, Berkeley Lovelace jr, ‘World Health Organization says some nations aren’t running enough coronavirus tests: “Test every suspected case”’ CNBC, 16.03.2020.

[28] Rory Stewart explains this well: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/03/12/rory-stewart-coronavirus-boris-johnson.cnn/video/playlists/coronavirus-intl/ Interviewed by Christiane Amanpour, CNN, 12.03.2020.

[29] https://left.it/2020/03/13/covid_19-open-letter-from-italy-to-the-international-scientific-community/ ‘Covid_19: Open letter from Italy to the international scientific community’, Left, 13.03.2020.

[30] https://twitter.com/DanielFalush/status/1239049733974433798 First-hand account by Professor Daniel Falush of the Institute Pasteur, Shanghai, 15.03.2020.

[31] https://left.it/2020/03/13/covid_19-open-letter-from-italy-to-the-international-scientific-community/ ‘Covid_19: Open letter from Italy to the international scientific community’, Left, 13.03.2020.

[32] https://twitter.com/DanielFalush/status/1239049733974433798 First-hand account by Professor Daniel Falush of the Institute Pasteur, Shanghai, 15.03.2020.

[33] Be like Jürgen Klopp: https://www.liverpoolfc.com/news/first-team/390397-jurgen-klopp-message-to-supporters Liverpool Football Club, ‘Jürgen Klopp’s message to supporters’, 13.03.2020.

[34] https://www.ft.com/content/249daf9a-67c3-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3 Clive Cookson, ‘UK’s original coronavirus plan risked “hundreds of thousands” dead.’ Financial Times, 16.03.2020.

[35] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/what-date-uk-go-lockdown-21808178 Dave Stubbings, ‘What date did the UK go into lockdown – and when will it end?’ Mirror, 06.04.2020.

[36] https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/sendung/ts-36147.html ARD Tagesschau, 8 pm, 16.03.2020, at 4:50.

[37] https://www.rp.pl/Koronawirus-SARS-CoV-2/200419637-1-Polska-i-swiat-walcza-z-koronawirusem—relacja-z-15-kwietnia-.html Artur Bartkiewicz, ‘Polska i świat walczą z koronawirusem – relacja z 15 kwietnia’ Rzeczpospolita, 15.04.2020.
[38] https://interaktiv.tagesspiegel.de/lab/karte-sars-cov-2-in-deutschland-landkreise/?utm_source=tagesspiegel.de&utm_medium=html-box-home&utm_campaign=corona ‘Alle Corona-Fälle nach Landkreisen und Bundesländern’ Der Tagesspiegel, 15.04.2020; figures compiled from local authority data by Der Tagesspiegel, the data firm Risklayer and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT); they are higher than those published by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which are based on reports made directly to it by physicians and hospitals.

[39] https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-52289273 Live reporting edited by Deirdre Finnerty, ‘The latest UK figures in graphs’, BBC News, 15.04.2020, listed at 16:42 hrs. Includes only hospital deaths, and will therefore be a substantial undercount.

[40] https://news.stv.tv/politics/coronavirus-linked-deaths-in-scotland-rise-to-962?top Dan Vevers, ‘Coronavirus-linked deaths in Scotland exceed 1000’, STV News, 15.04.2020 at 12:15 pm. Figure includes care homes and suspected coronavirus deaths, as well as hospital deaths.

[41] Compare the figures throughout Europe on the WHO Coronavirus (Covid-19) Dashboard: https://who.sprinklr.com/region/euro/country/pl . Government responses throughout Europe are described in English in the country reports of the Covid-19 Health Systems Monitor set up by the WHO (Europe Office), European Commission and European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies: https://www.covid19healthsystem.org/ .

[42] WHO Coronavirus (Covid-19) Dashboard https://who.sprinklr.com/region/euro/country/sk accessed 16.04.2020.

[43] https://twitter.com/GrayInGlasgow/status/1250754690394062849 Michael Gray, reporting First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Parliament, 16.04.2020.

[44] https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/sam-mcconkey-closing-schools-a-good-start-but-much-more-is-needed-1.4201425 Sam McConkey (Professor of Infectious diseases, Dublin), ‘Closing schools a good start but much more is needed’, Irish Times, 13.03.2020.

Comments (21)

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  1. Julian Smith says:

    Excellent article. Hope you have made a full recovery.

    1. Orla Fiona Mulholland says:

      Thank you! I am doing much better now.

  2. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Thank you for your very obvious hard work, Orla – an incisive and invaluable contribution for these times.

    1. Orla Fiona Mulholland says:

      Thank you very much!

  3. peter wenk says:

    So 6,. 2% of all infected die? Seriously…

    1. Orla Fiona Mulholland says:

      We don’t know the mortality rate. The figures from Italy have included 6.2% (as in the Forbes article in n. 22 above – I cited that figure because it was the one that spooked the markets at that time) and 5% (in the letter from Italian doctors in n. 29). Prof. S. McConkey (n. 44 ), on both Chinese and Italian evidence, put it at 2%-4%. I believe the UK scientists have been working with a figure of 0.6% mortality, but they never explained where it came from and all their calculations have underestimated the seriousness of the disease (their model was built for a different, much less serious disease). Claims of low mortality depend on the assumption that there are very high numbers of completely asymptomatic cases, but no one knows if that’s true.

      If most of the population becomes infected, e.g. 80%, as would be needed for ‘herd immunity’ but as is also inevitable unless vehement efforts are made to prevent it (by social distancing combined with tracing and isolating infections, as in the East Asian approach), then even on McConkey’s figures the death count in the next few months will be between 86,000 and 172,000 just in Scotland. Social distancing alone will merely spread these deaths out over a longer time: they’ll occur in several waves, but will ultimately reach the same number. Only if distancing is combined with tracing and isolating cases of infection can these catastrophic numbers of deaths actually be stopped.

      In theory ‘cocooning’ the most vulnerable ought to reduce the number of deaths, but the high number of deaths that have already occurred in care homes show that in practice the cocooning hasn’t been working.

      For more on all this, see the evidence of Anthony Costello, ex-director of the WHO, to the Commons Select Committee on Health today. Meanwhile the Holyrood Health Committee appears to have mothballed itself.

  4. grafter says:

    My goodness someone here needs to calm down over this “deadly” virus which according to our corrupt mainstream MSM has been elevated to the status of a new Black Death.

    “This virus influences our lives in a completely excessive way. This is disproportionate to the danger posed by the virus. And the astronomical economic damage now being caused is not commensurate with the danger posed by the virus. I am convinced that the Corona mortality rate will not even show up as a peak in annual mortality.
    All those we have examined so far had cancer, a chronic lung disease, were heavy smokers or severely obese, suffered from diabetes or had a cardiovascular disease. The virus was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak […] Covid-19 is a fatal disease only in exceptional cases, but in most cases it is a predominantly harmless viral infection.

    Dr Klaus Püschel is German forensic pathologist and former professor of forensics at Essen University and current director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.

    1. James Mills says:

      Why , then , has the mortality rate been so high in some countries ( Italy , Spain , UK …) but only a tiny fraction elsewhere ?

      1. grafter says:

        The stats are fraudulent to support a seriously misguided response. This for example….

        “Now look at what has happened since the emergence of Covid-19. The list of notifiable diseases has been updated. This list — as well as containing smallpox (which has been extinct for many years) and conditions such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague and rabies (which most UK doctors will never see in their entire careers) — has now been amended to include Covid-19. But not flu. That means every positive test for Covid-19 must be notified, in a way that it just would not be for flu or most other infections.”

        Dr John Lee is an English consultant histopathologist at Rotherham General Hospital and formerly clinical professor of pathology at Hull York Medical School.

    2. bob says:

      My goodness, someone here needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Death is not the only deadly outcome from this virus. By now even the brain dead can see the disruption caused by caring for those who do not die and by those waylaid by the arduous recovery period. This has the potential to impact supply chains and impact society in many and varied ways, none of them good. And now Germany, no doubt swayed by idiots downplaying this virus, is about to lose what little control it had in this mess.

  5. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

    I think it’s worth noting that herd immunity is a piece of Science and therefore has been checked, tested and verified. It has saved thousands of lives and played an important role in the eradication of smallpox in the 60s and 70s.

    1. grafter says:

      Herd immunity ? It’s too late now. They’re too far down the rabbit hole.

  6. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

    In the time it took coronavirus to kill 120,000 people, 36 million babies were born.

      1. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

        It was in the Guardian as a ‘good news ‘ story today. Would you say that it’s good news? Forecasters say we are heading towards a human population of 10 billion. Would you say that’s sustainable? Would you say that Zoonotic viruses are less or more likely in a world with 8/9/10 billion humans?

  7. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

    At least 10,000 species go extinct every year.
    Not individuals – SPECIES.

    1. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

      The sixth mass extinction – Human caused.

  8. Josefa Sartorius says:

    Look at this – https://www.euromomo.eu/outputs/number.html
    Germany, only Hessians (Bass uff, die Hesse komme) and Berliners (Die Ickes) are taking part in the round-up.
    and this – https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-kingdom

  9. Melancholyneighbour says:

    Focused testing and contact tracing has been the foundation for Irelands and many other countries approach to controlling this catastrophe.

    In Ireland, before “physical distancing” became official policy around mid March, testing, contact tracing and isolation was being exhaustively implemented. The tracing established that infected people had been in close contact with an average of 20 people. Those potentially infected, who would then be carriers themselves, were then obliged to self isolate. And, insofar as possible, the “tracers” followed up on THEIR contacts.

    Over a two week period that number dropped to 5.

    The hugely beneficial impact of people now widely observing physical distancing has resulted in the “tracers” finding that by 12th April, with the exception of healthcare workers, those more recently infected had been in close contact with only 2 people on average. Hence far fewer people needed to self isolate.

    But, and much more importantly, that’s a massive exponential reduction in the number of people potentially infected by asymptomatic and pre symptomatic carriers. You are talking hundreds of thousands in Ireland, maybe that x 15 in the UK) and greatly improves the prospects of the curve being flattened. And, regardless of the heroic work of NHS staff, that is the ONLY way any health system will get through this without collapsing due to sheer weight of numbers.

    In the time since the exercise began, Irelands reproductive number R0 has fallen from 3.5 to just below 1 which is the holy grail. Getting below 1 will see the spread of the virus die out. Above R1 the numbers will continue to increase.
     
    To have any chance of doing that, I am convinced that the UK MUST resume contact tracing immediately. It is late but not too late. Otherwise this crazy notion of “herd immunity” will happen by default. It will require huge numbers of people. Ireland had around 4,500 doing this full time. Now reduced to1,500. So the UK initially needs to deploy maybe 50,000.

    But with so many out of work, with proper organisation the people can easily be found. For example there are large numbers of teachers, airport staff and customs and excise personnel currently more or less at a loose end. Haven’t close to 750,000 people volunteered to help in any way they can? And there must be many other suitable people who have suddenly found themselves out of work. Contact tracing is mainly done by phone and adequate training can be provided in in a day.

    What is the R number in the UK today? What was it two weeks ago? Without tracing do the experts even know?

    UK deaths (hospitals only) 17/04/20 – 14,576  Pop. 68m. Rate 214
    Ireland ALL deaths 17 /04/20 – 530. Pop. 4.9m Rate 108

    UK testing 17/04/20 – 438,991 – 6.5 per 1,000 population
    Ireland testing 17/04/20 – 90,646 – 18.5 per 1,000 population

  10. bob says:

    Do you have any theories on how you got infected? How much were you isolating? Do you think food shopping was your exposure vector? When did you get symptoms? I am also in Berlin and I have been extremely careful for a long time, but if I have overlooked something, I’d like to learn from your experience.

    1. Orla Fiona Mulholland says:

      I can be pretty sure of when I got infected because I had already begun staying home well before we were told to by the authorities, so there were very few occasions when I could have contracted the infection. Ironically enough, it must have been the delivery of the parcel I mention in the opening paragraph above. The postman clearly had a cold, and to accept the parcel I had to sign with my finger on a touchscreen that he held, so we were inevitably standing quite close to each other. I could also have got it from the parcel itself after he handed it to me: I didn’t realise at that time that the virus can survive on cardboard, though I did scrub my hands thoroughly afterwards.

      Now deliveries are just left at the door and aren’t signed for, so it wouldn’t happen in exactly that way again, though the danger of infection from picking up the package would be the same. I should have opened it using gloves and disposed of the packaging at once while still wearing them, then disinfected the contents.

      Pass auf und bleib gesund!

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