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Considering Germany's Response to COVID-19

APR 18, 2020 | KENNETH BENDER, PHARMD, MA
The vigorous efforts in Germany to contain coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that distinguished its response from some EU neighbors followed many of the recommendations issued by their National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The first ad-hoc statement  of the Academy, issued in March detailed measures for containing spread of the virus, and a second statement issued in April describes a path toward normalization.

"Immediate and long-term social and economic consequences must be taken into account for future decisions," the Academy declared in a recent announcement. "The Leopoldina is currently working on further statements with recommendations for a sustainable 'restart' of public life and the economy."

In the March statement, the Academy described the pandemic as a highly dynamic and unprecedented situation requiring unconventional solutions and having consequences that cannot be fully anticipated.

"Hence, a scientific and coordinated approach is continuously required," the statement indicated. "As the knowledge base is changing constantly, options for interventions must be continuously adapted in light of new evidence."

The statement divides its recommended measures into 4 categories: protection of particularly vulnerable and systemically relevant population groups; diagnostics; development of drugs and vaccines; and information and education.

Among the measures to provide protection are implementation of telephone hotlines, digital advice and support services. The Academy calls for a central data platform for targeted and coordinated testing. It also calls for extending testing procedures "in order to avoid unnecessary, repetitive quarantine measures in the case of non-infectious or immune individuals."

In the April statement, the Academy noted that 350,000 polymerase chain reaction tests are being taken each week, and there are calls for further increases of testing with newly validated rapid tests. The Academy suggested that unused facilities at veterinary medicine and research institutions could be temporarily used to increase testing capacity. In addition to test for acute infection, the Academy urged randomized testing to enable epidemiological assessments that can inform regionally adapted measures.

In addition to addressing testing capacities, this statement also focused on use of face masks and on use of mobile phone data. The Academy stipulated that a prerequisite for relaxing restrictions on distancing and entering public space is the nationwide availability of protective masks.

The Academy described mobile phone apps to track contacts as "indispensable for precise measures, such as informing people potentially at risk". It cautioned that this technology should share relevant data anonymously; however, and in compliance with data protection and privacy laws, and that data should be deleted after a maximum of 4 weeks.

Although striving for best practices, Germany has found itself challenged in many of the same ways that its neighbors are, according to a news report from the German media outlet, Deutsche Welle (DW ).

"Germany does have a robust public healthcare system that for now appears to be weathering the storm," DW reports. "As in many countries, however, medical professionals in respiratory and intensive care report being massively overworked, and there is a risk of running out of protective equipment. While Germany has enough hospitals, they are chronically understaffed, and medical students are now helping out in the most overwhelmed units."
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