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The Secret to Germany’s Pandemic Success?

A medical worker instructs a woman in a car how to take a throat swab at a coronavirus testing facility in Berlin on April 24.

Germany’s labs have increased their coronavirus testing capacity to 141,815 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests a day, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the national center for disease control.

That means the nation’s labs can conduct 860,494 tests a week, said RKI. This estimate factors in that not all labs work seven days a week.It’s a twofold increase: last week, German labs only tested 467,137 tests.

Aggressive testing ahead of reopening: Germany has said that extensive testing is a key factor in its strategy to combat Covid-19 and for loosening some of the restrictions that have been placed on public life.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to meet later today in a video conference with state governors to discuss possible further easing of restrictions.

Germany reported 1,478 new cases and 173 deaths in the past 24 hours, according to RKI

Germany has drawn praise for its wide Covid-19 testing—by the end of April, it had increased its capacity to more than 860,000 tests per week—but an organized approach to contact tracing and quarantines might be more important.

Germany rolled out a tracing program early, Loveday Morris and Luisa Beck report for The Washington Post: “As the United Kingdom and the United States scramble to hire teams of contact tracers, local health authorities across Germany have used contact scouts … since they confirmed their first cases early this year.” Interestingly, for all the attention testing has gotten, one local official tells Beck and Morris that it’s not a point of emphasis. “‘There are two things: the contact tracing and the quarantine,’ [Patrick] Larscheid [who heads the public health department in Berlin’s Reinickendorf district] said. In Germany, the contacts of a positive coronavirus case are not generally tested unless they have symptoms. ‘Testing is nice, but if you’re tested or not tested and are in quarantine, it makes no difference,’ Larscheid said. Testing could also lull someone into a false sense of security, he said—a negative result might mean it’s just too early for an infection to register on a test.”

Tracing has been seen as key to successes against Covid-19 in East Asia, but it has also involved heavy surveillance: In Taiwan, a GPS-based system tracks quarantined individuals’ phone locations every ten minutes, alerting local government and police after two failed or errant pings. Hong Kong is using apps and wristbands to enforce mandatory quarantines. But in Germany, where digital privacy is a big concern, Morris and Beck report that things are done in low tech fashion, as tracers call and interview infected people by phone, noting their movements and contacts and following up with those who may have been exposed. Based on level of exposure, 14-day quarantines are either mandatory or advised.

WHO | Epidemiology and burden of disease

Something about Germany’s approach seems to have worked: Per Johns Hopkins data, Germany has seen just over 10 deaths per 100,000 people, 18th among large countries and much lower than the nearly 82 seen in Belgium, just over 58 in Spain, nearly 56 in the UK, and over 30 in the US.

Bolsonaro: The King of Covid-19 Populism?

President Trump’s American critics may be apoplectic at the US federal government’s lack of a testing and tracing program, or at Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic and hyping of an unproven treatment. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s detractors may have cried foul over a slow response, or over top adviser Dominic Cummings’s breach of restrictions.

Bolsonaro's populism is leading Brazil to disaster

But the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman writes that Jair Bolsonaro is in a different class. “Brazil’s president has taken an approach that is strikingly similar to that of Mr Trump—but even more irresponsible and dangerous,” Rachman writes. “Both leaders have become obsessed with the supposedly curative properties of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. But while Mr Trump is merely taking it himself, Mr Bolsonaro has forced the Brazilian health ministry to issue new guidelines, recommending the drug for coronavirus patients.

The US president has squabbled with his scientific advisers. But Mr Bolsonaro has sacked one health minister and provoked his replacement to resign. Mr Trump has expressed sympathy for anti-lockdown protesters; Mr Bolsonaro has addressed their rallies.”

Yanomami community in northern Brazil saying ‘Go away, mining companies’. Image by Victor Moriyama/ISA.

Bolsonaro wants to distance himself from the pandemic’s economic effects, Rachman argues, and the country is paying a price. Jon Lee Anderson writes for The New Yorker that indigenous Amazon communities are at particular risk: A representative of one indigenous people’s association in the state of Amazonas published a rare appeal, writing, “We don’t usually ask for outside help. But in this time of coronavirus, we won’t survive without it.”

Brazilian government data show deforestation has reached the highest level in at least 13 years.

Through everything, Anderson writes, Bolsonaro has been defiant: In April, “on the same day that Brazil’s death toll from confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded five thousand, he asked a reporter, ‘So what? I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do about it?’”

Go Back to Work? The Question Is Complicated.

So argues Dr. Marc Larochelle of Boston Medical Center in a New England Journal of Medicine op-ed. While we tend to see whether to go back to work as a simple “yes” or “no” question, based on a state or local government’s reopening rules, Larochelle writes that it’s more nuanced: Government guidelines may call for reopening, but so far they have lacked attention to detail regarding which workers face greater risk of exposure in the workplace, and which individual workers would be more vulnerable if they got sick.

Covid-19’s “case fatality rate may approach 10% for people … who are in their 60s and have diabetes—more than 20 times that among people under 50 without a high-risk chronic condition,” Larochelle writes. “With these odds, should clinicians be advising persons at heightened risk for death from Covid-19 to consider stopping work in settings that confer a high risk of exposure? If a person’s occupational risk of becoming infected and risk of death from infection each approaches 10%, their occupational mortality risk becomes 1 in 100—10 times the annual occupational mortality risk among commercial fisherman, the highest-risk occupation in the United States.” Larochelle proposes a graded scale, taking into account both workplace exposure risk and individual health vulnerabilities, to determine who should go back.

The Time to Strike on Climate Change?

Energy - Sonnenseite - Ökologische Kommunikation mit Franz Alt

With travel on hold and economic activity ground to a partial halt, one silver lining has been a drop in global carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency expects CO2 emissions to drop by nearly 8% in 2020 compared with last year—but as The Economist writes in its most recent cover story, that’s not going to be enough: “Even if people endure huge changes in how they lead their lives, this sad experiment has shown, the world would still have more than 90% of the necessary decarbonisation left to do to get on track for the Paris agreement’s most ambitious goal, of a climate only 1.5°C warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution.”

What Covid-19 could improve, the magazine suggests, is the efficacy of long-debated policies designed to transition away from carbon: In the pandemic economy, carbon taxes and pricing schemes could accomplish more, the magazine writes, suggesting now is the time to pursue an energy transition. Elsewhere, the magazine writes that coal could take a particular hit, as renewable sources are already becoming cheaper than new coal plants, and low interest rates in the pandemic economy will make financing new green infrastructure affordable. What will happen to oil demand could be anyone’s guess amid the conflicting factors of reduced air travel, the lack of any other means of power planes, and a potential rise in popularity of car commuting (to avoid crowded buses and trains). But with some analysts already projecting carbon emissions would peak in the 2020s, the magazine writes that depending on how things go, that peak could already be behind us.

Would Hong Kong’s Economy Survive What Beijing Is Considering?

With the Chinese Communist Party weighing a controversial new security law for Hong Kong, observers have pointed out that the city could lose its status as a financial hub: If Hong Kong becomes just another Chinese city, the argument goes, why would foreign countries like the US continue trading with it on separate terms from the mainland? In a Nikkei Asian Review column, William Pesek argues the point further, writing that if Beijing acts, foreign businesses will flee.

“The more Xi damages China’s liberal financial zone, the more the foreign companies generating millions of jobs in Hong Kong will question why they should stay,” Pesek writes. China already pressured Cathay Pacific during 2019’s protests over some employees’ support for the movement, resulting in the ouster of its CEO, Pesek notes. If Beijing impinges on Hong Kong’s freedoms further, he writes, the risks to multinational companies would be myriad: The proposed law “criminalizes ‘foreign interference’ without specifying who the measure targets or where the boundaries lie.

Might a Goldman Sachs report out of Hong Kong questioning China’s gross domestic product data put its business charter at risk?” If Beijing enacts the security law, Pesek writes, it may well go further—for instance by putting in place the proposed extradition law that sparked protests last year. “What multinational corporate board or startup team eying an IPO wants to have that worry in the backs of their minds?” he asks.

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