Many people in Germany are worried right now: what happens if I or a close relative gets sick with the Coronavirus? In Italy, the intensive care units are hopelessly overcrowded, the doctors and relatives are correspondingly desperate. Medical ventilators of older patients have to be turned off in order to save younger patients. Will the Corona crisis hit the German healthcare system just as hard?
The answer is: no! This is mainly due to the fact that we have more time to prepare for the Corona crisis.
For now, the situation in German hospitals still looks good for two reasons. Firstly, there are less people infected in Germany than in Italy, secondly, there are more intensive care beds available. In Germany, there are around 33,500 people infected with 28,000 intensive care beds, Italy has 74,000 infected people with only 5,000 intensive care beds (figures from 25th March).
Another German advantage: real-time query of hospital capacities is possible on the DIVI-Intensivregister website (register for intensive care beds in Germany). A simple traffic light system shows the number of free intensive care beds in the respective clinics. A distinction is made between low-care-beds (low need for care), high-care-beds (severely ill patients) and ECMO-beds (severely ill patients who need artificial respiration). The register shows that individual hospitals in the different cities are in fact already full (red), however, in every city there are clinics with free capacities.
In case of emergency, this platform is worth its weight in gold because intensive care patients can quickly be passed to the next free clinic. Italy does not have such an online tool at its disposal.
Besides free beds, two further things are necessary to get through the Corona crisis: hospital staff and the citizens’ understanding.
The latter has already been partially achieved. Many people are following the advice of Angela Merkel and stay at home since the weekend. Consequently, there was no complete shutdown on Sunday, March 22nd. Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert-Koch-Institute told the news magazine DER SPIEGEL that there are indications that the exponential growth of the curve in Germany will slow down. In Italy, the curve is becoming weaker as well, but the flattening is too late. The Italian health care system has already collapsed with more than 7,500 deaths due to the Coronavirus. In Germany, less than two hundred people have died of the virus until now.
The question whether Germany has enough staff at its disposal has not been settled yet. Last week, Klaus Reinhardt, the President of the German Medical Association asked retired doctors and medical students for help.
Although the staffing situation in German hospitals has been difficult for years, it is even worse in Italy. Over the past few years, equipment and staff has been reduced and the budget for health expenditure has continuously been reduced to 8,84 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In Germany however, it has recently increased to 11,25 percent of GDP.
So when will this nightmare be over? The visualization of the young IT developer Manuel Blechschmidt provides illuminating insights. Together with 40,000 other people, he participated in the hackathon #WirVsVirus (“us against the virus”) to find digital solutions in the Corona crisis.
Together with nineteen other participants, Blechschmidt developed a simulation which shows the spread of the virus in North Rhine-Westphalia. For this purpose, he used the data model of researchers from the University of Basel, which has already been used by the weekly magazine DER SPIEGEL for different pandemic simulations.
His calculation shows: if the present moderate shutdown persists, the Corona crisis will peak at the end of May in North Rhine-Westphalia. There will be approximately as many hospitals with fully used capacities as hospitals with free capacities. Blechschmidt provides his calculations to clinic operators free of charge here.
That means: if we have enough staff, the exchange of patients between the hospitals succeeds and people abide by the prescribed curfew, we can avert the fiasco which is happening in Italy right now. However, we have to be prepared for the fact that the curfew will probably not be over in June.