As the now-well-worn (but still pretty darned good!) wisecrack goes, “I’m old enough to remember when Germany was held up as a model for fighting the CCP Virus.” (See e.g., here and here.) And as this gibe implies, that portrayal of Germany keeps getting exposed as premature.
In fact, by several key grim virus metrics, Germany has caught up with the United States – which of course has just as often been held up as a model for how not to fight the pandemic.
For example, according to the Worldometers.info website, on a per capita basis, Germany’s daily death rate is now greater than the United States’. As of last Friday (I’m skipping the weekend numbers because CCP Virus-related info tends to get reported more slowly on Saturdays and Sundays), Germany’s new reported virus-related fatalities were 30 percent of America’s (838 vs 2,794). Yet Germany’s population (83.91 million) is only 25.28 percent of America’s (331.91 million).
Germany’s performance looks better in terms of seven-day average (7DA) daily figures – which are more accurate because they smooth out the inevitable random daily fluctuations. On December 18, the German figure of 598 was only 23.15 percent of its U.S. counterpart of 2,583.
But major German catch-up has still taken place. And it’s been going on for months. October 16 is when the American 7DA daily fatality total began its latest big move. That day’s figure was 716. So between then and December 18, it rose by 260.75 percent.
October 16 is just before Germany’s current death surge, and that day, the 7DA stood at 21. So through December 18, it’s risen by 2,748.62 percent. That’s more than ten times faster.
The new daily infections numbers tell a similar story. Let’s cut to the chase and examine the 7DAs. By this measure, the United States’ current and worst CCP Virus wave began about October 5, when the daily 7DA stood at 44,691. By December 18, it was up just under 400 percent.
Germany’s current wave (a true second wave) began about the same time, and on October 5, the 7DA for daily new infections stood at 2,292. As of December 18, the figure was 24,460 – a level just over 967 percent above October 5’s, and a rate of increase more than twice as fast as the United States.’
None of this means that Germany’s virus strategy has been a failure, and certainly doesn’t mean that America’s has been a success. In the first place, serious measurement problems continue to plague the infection and mortality data everywhere. (See, e.g., here.)
In the second place, it’s not cricket to compare any geographic regions’ CCP Virus strategies without taking major virus-related differences into account. In this case, it’s crucial to note that temperatures affect the virus’ spread, and that Germany got colder faster, at least between October and November, than the United States. (For the U.S. data, see here. For the German data, see here.) Germany is also about seven times more densely populated than America, and its relatively crowded conditions alone clearly encourage virus spread. Moreover, it’s not as if Germany has locked down consistently since the CCP Virus’ arrival.
At the same time, the German-American differences in temperatures and temperature changes have hardly been enormous. (Further complicating the weather analysis – the United States’ enormous size also means enormous weather variance from region to region.) And the population density hasn’t changed during this year. So the gaps between these variables can’t possibly begin to explain why Germany’s current surge – albeit from much lower absolute starting levels – has been so much worse than the United States. But they’ve been the statistics used most often to judge virus strategies, so it seems fair to examine exactly what they’ve revealed lately.
Nor does it make sense to blame Germany’s relatively poor performance this fall and winter so far on its various reopenings. Unless you think shutting down an entire national economy for that many months consecutively, with no relief, is a viable approach to a pandemic.
Instead, it’s time to recognize, especially for lockdown and mask-wearing and other mass restrictions enthusiasts, that if – even before the pandemic is one year old – countries with mitigation approaches as far apart as those of Germany and the United States have been so widely labeled can see such completely unexpected infection and mortality results, the establishment conventional wisdom on sweeping behavioral curbs is weaker than advocates insist. And consequently, the best possible tradeoffs between CCP Virus spread and mortality effects on the one hand, and other public health and economic costs on the other, shouldn’t be regarded as set in stone.