We really don't know NOTHING

Corona: What do we really know?

Status: 05.03.20 12:52 p.m.
by Christian Baars, Andrea Brack Peña, Stefan Buchen, Johannes Edelhoff

Thomas Maurer is annoyed. He is a family doctor in Leck, a small town near the border with Denmark. Actually, he and all the other family doctors are currently supposed to play an important role in the fight against the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus. You are supposed to review suspected cases and deal with them.

But Thomas Maurer says they are not equipped for it at all. They would have no masks, no protective goggles, no sterile gowns and no disposal options for soiled protective clothing. Getting the right protective masks now is "completely hopeless," says Maurer, and there aren't any more on the market. "We are told, take care. But neither of us is prepared for something like that."

The number of confirmed infections in Germany is still quite low

The number of confirmed infections in Germany is currently still quite low, in the three-digit range. But it is increasing. More and more suspected cases need to be investigated. In a government statement on Wednesday, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) stated that the health system was well armed. But he also admitted difficulties. "It sometimes takes too long until suspected cases are tested," said Spahn. "Of course not all processes have been implemented yet."

Professor Matthias Stoll notices that too. He is a senior physician for immunology at the Hannover Medical School (MHH). Just last Friday, a family doctor from the region personally brought samples from two suspected cases to the clinic because she could not reach anyone in the responsible health department. Everyone is currently overwhelmed, says Stoll. "At the moment we are being overwhelmed with inquiries that we as a hospital are not actually responsible for." He strongly advises against simply coming to the hospital with mild cold symptoms just to see if you have become infected.

What to do if you are potentially affected

But how difficult it is to get it right, Michael K noticed. On Sunday he learned from the Portuguese media that a writer was infected with the corona virus. Michael K. had been sitting on a podium with this author a week earlier, hugging him in greeting and talking to him. That is why he now wanted to be tested - also because he showed slight cold symptoms.

Michael K. called the official hotline in Hessen. There he was told that he should report to the health department on Monday. Then he was told that his family doctor was responsible. But he informed him that he did not have the necessary equipment. Michael K. then phoned other doctors, including the university clinic in Frankfurt. He didn't find anyone to test him. He was only able to submit a sample on Tuesday.

Location "somewhat confusing"

At Panorama’s request, the responsible health department announced that it was in contact with the person concerned. He acted in an exemplary manner. "The question of taking a smear was able to be resolved unbureaucratically by the health department; we sent the smear to a laboratory for examination." Michael K. is still waiting for the result until Thursday noon.

The Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians in Hesse admitted that the situation was "in fact a bit confusing at the moment". It is true that swab tubes have become rare in some practices. There is also a lack of protective material. And it is not clear what should be done with practices in which a patient with a confirmed infection has turned up. "This uncertainty leads some doctors to refuse," said the KV Hessen. However, individual cases like this should not create the impression that the supply is not working as a whole. Because if it were, there would be significantly more complaints.

Laboratories are reaching their capacity limits

But the situation is not only tense in the doctor's offices and hospitals, but also in some laboratories - where the samples that come from general practitioners are examined. "We are at the limit of our capacity," says Professor Silke Fischer, head of the state laboratory in Baden-Württemberg. The problem: After every positive coronavirus case, all close contacts are currently also to be tested - that would mean dozens more samples. At some point that will no longer be possible, says Fischer. Then the specifications would have to be changed.

In the past few weeks, the official recommendations have been adjusted several times. The situation is dynamic, you learn more about the virus from day to day, according to the EU authority for protection against infectious diseases (ECDC). There, in Stockholm, the experts are observing the situation around the world, constantly updating the risk assessment and the associated recommendations.

One should not forget that this is a new virus, says the head of the ECDC, Andrea Ammon. It is a matter of closely monitoring developments, says Ammon. You would have to "think anew every day: is the situation the same or not?" Nobody knows how the outbreak will continue. The current plans may be out of date again next week.