Private Labs Helped Germany Test 1 Million For Covid-19 Virus

(Bloomberg) --

Germany has a powerful weapon in the battle to contain Covid-19: a wealth of private laboratories that are helping it test more than 50,000 people a day.

The country had already tested about 920,000 people through late March and checked more than 350,000 people in the past week alone, the Robert Koch Institute public health group said Tuesday in a report. That may still understate the country’s total effort, since not all the laboratories that have done assays have yet submitted numbers for last week.

Germany’s widespread testing -- still not as comprehensive as many there would like -- has enabled better tracking of the coronavirus’s spread than in many other European nations. The country benefits from other health-care advantages, including one of the continent’s highest rates of hospital beds in relation to population size.

“We might have the best overview of the real number of those infected” thanks to the country’s massive ability to find cases, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, a German radiologist who’s chairman of the World Medical Association, said Thursday at a press briefing. Still, even Germany’s numbers are far from capturing the full extent of infections, according to Montgomery. “I believe them to be much higher.”

Germany is testing about 6,000 of every million citizens, about three times the rate in the U.K., according to an analysis from the BBC. Critics have pointed out that the U.K. was slower than some other countries to make labs available for processing.

‘Maximally Prepared’

German health authorities saw in mid-January what was coming and were “maximally prepared” with a plan for the pandemic, Montgomery said.

That was certainly the case for Bavaria, which had one of the first Covid-19 clusters outside of China. In January, a Chinese employee of auto-parts supplier Webasto SE visited the company’s headquarters south of Munich without realizing she was sick. Upon returning to China, she was confirmed to have the virus -- and soon so did nine Webasto workers in Bavaria along with some of their family members.

Since then, Bavaria -- with a population of 13 million -- has performed more than 110,000 tests, according to the state health ministry. The region has expanded its capacity to do 13,000 tests a day, with about 11,000 of those performed in private labs, Bavaria health minister Melanie Huml said Wednesday.

“Our goal is to get clarity as fast as possible when it comes to possible cases,” Huml said in a statement. “That’s very important in order to curtail infections.”

Just 143 labs had relayed figures before Robert Koch published its report on the past week, while results from 176 labs were included in the previous week’s tally.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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