Expert points out moment the UK stopped mirroring Germany’s approach to coronavirus

Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel have had different approaches to the coronavirus, but started off mi

Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel have had different approaches to the coronavirus, but started off mirroring each other. Photograph: PA. - Credit: Archant

Germany has been held up as an example of where Europe got the response to tackling the coronavirus right, despite having a bigger population than the United Kingdom.

The European country has declared its coronavirus outbreak under control, as it prepares to take its first steps out of lockdown next week, with a partial reopening of schools and smaller shops.

'The infection numbers have sunk significantly, especially the relative day-by-day increase,' said the German health minister Jens Spahn, which has seen just a 3% mortality rate compared to 13% in the UK.

It has left questions about how the UK managed to gets its approach so wrong by comparison.

One expert, BBC Newsnight's international editor Gabriel Gatehouse says that the UK was mirroring the country until a policy change on March 12th.


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He explained: 'More testing just means Germany just has a better picture of what's going on, which means they can be a little bit more confident in lifting some of those restrictions, knowing if they see the infection rate go up again, they can act in good time.'

He continued: 'Public Health England and the Germans worked together on developing one of the first tests for coronavirus - that was back in January - and then both the UK and Germany were doing what they call 'community testing' and contact tracing. Basically testing people who were not in hospital, people who had milder symptoms, and then quarantining them and people that they've been in contact with.

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'Now Germany did a lot more of that than we did, but we were also doing it, until there was a policy change on 12th March.

'This was the day when the prime minister announced we were moving from the containment phase - i.e stopping the spread - to the policy of delay, basically delaying the peak to try and take the pressure off the NHS.

'This was when the prime minister - I think the headline figure was - telling people with a mild fever or cough to stay at home for seven days. But potentially the much more significant change of policy was articulated by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, who essentially said that on the 12th March that community testing and contact tracing would stop.'

On that day Whitty said the government would pivot its testing capacity from the community to focus on testing in hospital instead.

Gatehouse pointed out that the Germans 'also pivoted from contain to delay but they never stopped the testing'.

He pointed out that virologists in Germany always believed it would be 'one of the main tools' to contain the spread and 'get a clear picture to understand what is going on'.

He said it was presented as a 'policy change' but it was also to do with 'capacity', and the British were now 'basically going back to a policy of community testing' because of the 100,000 target health secretary Matt Hancock has referenced but said 'the actual reality is lagging behind'.

'This explains why Germany has under 4,000 Covid-19 deaths, whereas the United Kingdom has over 14,000 deaths,' said Nolan Jazimreg.

'Interesting comparison between the UK and Germany with respects to community testing and contact tracing for Covid-19,' tweeted Richard Hixson, 'and how this may have resulted in the different trajectories we are now witnessing'.

'Excellent explanation of difference between UK and German approaches and the subsequent results,' wrote Bill Bows. 'There seems little doubt that catastrophic errors of judgement were made by this government and those people need to be held to account.'

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