These five numbers give hope in the corona crisis

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These five numbers give hope in the corona crisis


Reproduction rate, doubling time, free intensive care beds: These figures show that Germany is on the right track to contain the epidemic.



© Photo: dpa / Frederico Gambarini
Masks and spacing have an effect – like here in Cologne.


People around the world are currently living with significant limitations due to the corona pandemic. In Germany, among other things, social contacts are limited, restaurants are closed and travel is prohibited. It has been clear since this week at the latest: all these restrictions are having an effect.

Health minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said on Friday in Berlin that the number of infections had risen linearly to a linear one. “The outbreak has become manageable and manageable today.” Germany is doing well in international comparison.

A look at five different numbers from this week gives hope that Germany is on the right track to contain the epidemic:

0.7 – The effective number of reproductions

On the evening of April 16, the Robert Koch Institute reported that the infection rate was falling in Germany. The RKI calculates that the effective reproduction number R in Germany is around 0.7, which is less than 1 – an important step in the fight against the corona virus. What is behind it?

The basic reproduction number R0 indicates how many others an infected person without countermeasures infects on average if nobody is immune. The data for the novel corona virus range from 2 to a little over 3 with an unchecked spread. The effective reproduction number R indicates how many others are infected by an infected person after measures have been taken to contain the virus or a part of the population is already immune.

If R is now 0.7, ten infected people infect an additional seven people on average, so the number of new infections per day decreases. All the cases identified since April 12 were included in the RKI estimate, the range of fluctuation is given as 0.5 to 0.8.

RKI director Lothar Wieler spoke on Friday in Berlin of “really good interim results”. But he also emphasized that there are regional differences. In some regions of Germany, the number is still over one. It was also a snapshot that Germany was still at the beginning of the epidemic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) set the goal at a press conference on Wednesday to keep the number of reproductions at one or lower. She calculated that even a small increase of 0.1 or 0.2 could lead to an overload of the health system.

17.6 days – The doubling of the number of cases

Another number that is important to assess the spread of an epidemic is the doubling time. The doubling time is the number of days in which the new infections with the coronavirus double. Basically, the longer the doubling time, the better for the hospitals.

Without measures, with unlimited, exponentially increasing case numbers, the healthcare system would collapse, even if only a few of those infected with Covid 19 needed treatment in the intensive care unit. At the beginning of the corona epidemic, the doubling time was two days. In the meantime, calculations of the daily level show that the doubling time in the federal states is between 15 and 20 days.

The average of the countries is currently 17.6 days, but this does not take into account how many inhabitants the countries have. The Johns Hopkins University in the USA is now assuming a doubling time of over 20 days in Germany.

Merkel had spoken of a target of ten days at the end of March, the number has since been revised upwards. To curb an epidemic permanently, the number should be over 20. If the number of new infections no longer grows exponentially, the doubling time also loses its importance. The focus is now on the number of reproductions.

11,549 – so many free intensive care beds are available

In addition to the contagion rate, whether the health system is overloaded or not depends primarily on the capacity of intensive care beds. In Germany, clinics started to postpone operations that were not necessary and thus generate free beds in the intensive care units. For a long time it was not clear how many free intensive care beds there are.

The specially created DIVI registration register did not initially cover all beds. Since April 16, however, hospitals have been obliged to pass on their current bed capacity to the DIVI intensive care register. That was what Health Minister Jens Spahn had arranged for.

As of April 17 at 3 p.m., 11,549 intensive care beds are free in Germany. There are a total of 27,783 intensive care beds, of which 16,234 are currently occupied. 2,683 Covid-19 cases are currently under treatment, 1,980 of which require ventilation. This corresponds to a rate of 73.8 percent of all ventilated patients.

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The German Society for Epidemiology has prepared several model calculations for the coronavirus. She estimates that two to six percent of corona patients need an intensive care bed on which they spend between ten and 20 days. If the number of reproductions in Germany remains at one or less, the German health system will not be overloaded. However, regional differences are not recorded here.

Germany is well positioned in international comparison. The Federal Statistical Office reported at the beginning of April that there are 33.9 intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany. The rate is much lower in the countries particularly affected by the corona epidemic, Spain and Italy. In Spain there are 9.7 beds and in Italy only 8.6 intensive beds per 100,000 inhabitants.

8.1 percent – The rate of positive corona tests

At least 1,728,357 tests for Covid-19 have been carried out in Germany until last Sunday, April 12th. The Robert Koch Institute asked these numbers from the laboratories and published them in their management report. The Tagesspiegel used these numbers to calculate what percentage of all tests are positive.

The following applies: If the virus spreads rapidly, an increasing percentage can be expected. In fact, the percentage of positive results in Germany rose rapidly in the first weeks of the epidemic, only slowly since the end of March. Most recently, it even fell from 9.1 to 8.1 percent.

Markus Scholz, professor of epidemiology at the University of Leipzig, interprets these numbers as meaning that the epidemic in Germany is stagnating. Because it is still decided according to the same criteria who will be tested, a relatively stable proportion of the positive results can be seen. This also contributes to the fact that there is enough test capacity in Germany, he told Tagesspiegel.

If you change who is tested at all, this affects the proportion of people who tested positive. Scholz expects an even lower proportion of the positive results, “if, for example, more testing is carried out in the course of easing, for example to regularly check people with many contacts.”

A look at the USA shows a different picture. Here, the number of positive tests, at 21.2 percent, is significantly higher than in Germany and has increased in the past two weeks.

77,000 – as many Covid 19 patients have recovered

According to the Tagesspiegel, more than 138,000 Covid-19 cases are currently registered in Germany, and more than 4,000 people have already died from the disease. Many people who have Covid-19 have also recovered. The number in Germany is estimated at 77,000 people.

These people are now likely to be immune to the novel corona virus for at least some time. Cases of re-infection have been reported from South Korea, but Charite chief virologist Christian Drosten doubts that re-infection may occur. It is much more based on false negative test results at the end of the course of the disease.

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Antibodies have formed in the blood of those who have recovered, which are of great value to science. For example, research is currently being carried out on therapeutic options for seriously ill Covid 19 patients with the blood plasma of those who have already recovered. Such therapy has been successful in other epidemics such as the Spanish flu.

Science is also working on rapid antibody tests. These tests are designed to quickly, easily, and safely determine whether a person has had Covid-19 in the past. Christian Drosten said in the NDR podcast that he expected comprehensive tests in two to three months.

The more people recover, the more immune and can help science while researching therapy options, tests and vaccines. However, if you hope for the much-discussed herd immunity, you will have to wait a long time. Researchers at the Helmholtz Society calculated that this would only be achieved in 25 years.

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