Why France has 4 times as many coronavirus deaths as Germany

Which raises the question: How did two similarly sized countries, located right next to each other and with comparable levels of wealth and resources, end up with such starkly different outcomes? After ordering pubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms and leisure centres across the country to close indefinitely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressedthe public on March 23; outlining strict exercise and shopping limits, ordering all shops other than food stores and pharmacies to close, and implementing a ban on public gatheringsof twoor more people. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, while deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19), announced on April 16that theU.K.lockdown would continue for at least another three weeks. The government is also delivering an unprecedented economic relief package aimed at businesses and individuals hitbythepandemic,which is estimated to cost over £400 billion. A rise in the popularity of baking during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown appears to have caused many major supermarkets across the UK to suffer a shortage of flour in recent weeks. Over 125,000 birthday cards were sent to Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £30 million by walking 100 laps of his 25 metre (82 feet) garden before his 100th birthday, which were organised in the Great Hall of the temporarily-closed Bedford School in Bedford, England on April 28.   NHS workers hold a minute's silence outside the main entrance of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England on April 28. Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement, while flanked by windows showing children's drawings of rainbows supporting the NHS, on his first day back at work in Downing Street after recovering from a bout of coronavirus (COVID-19) that put him in intensive care, in London, England on April 27. Imported automobiles sit at the docks in the shadow of wind turbines in Sheerness, England on April 23, as new car sales are down a reported 44 percent in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.  A cyclist passes a piece of grafitti of artist BK Foxx wearing her grafitti mask, created by French street artist Zabou, in East London, England on April 19.  Mounted police patrol by the area outside the Bank of England in the capital's financial district in London on April 15. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic could see the U.K. economy shrink by a record 35 percent by June.  A man wears a religious placard on Market Street in Manchester, England on March 25.  Workers sell food and household items to local residents from their ice cream van at a supported housing estate in west Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 1. The pair turned their van into a mobile mini-market selling essential items to residents who are on lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre in London, which is being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital comprising two wards, each of 2,000 people, to help tackle coronavirus, on March 30.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with chief medical officer Chris Whitty (L) and Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance (R) in Downing Street after he had taken part in the government's emergency Cobra meeting in London, England on March 16. France had the continent’s first confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, but the French government failed for weeks to take decisive action to impose strict social distancing measures or promote large-scale testing. The experiences of these two countries show that just having substantial national wealth and high-quality health care systems isn’t enough to keep citizens safe from the deadly coronavirus. “Countries that were slow to respond have, so far, paid the price,” Thomas Bollyky, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, told me last month. Marieke Degen, the deputy spokesperson of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, told me that the country’s earliest coronavirus carriers were skiers returning home from Austria and Italy. That just happens to be near top German hospitals in Bonn, Düsseldorf, Cologne, and other cities, which means those patients were able to access the best care. In the case of Covid-19, German laboratories started accumulating testing kits as signs of a global spread became more real in early 2020. The Robert Koch Institute’s Degen told me that early testing helped the country’s public health officials get a better understanding of where the outbreaks were and how far the disease had spread before things got out of control. In the city of Heidelberg, for example, the New York Times reports that vehicles known locally as “corona taxis” transport physicians to the homes of those who have been sick for five to six days. This not only helps authorities keep tabs on a known patient, but also enables them to intervene at a critical point in the disease’s progression, thereby reducing the chances of death. “Testing and tracking is the strategy that was successful in South Korea and we have tried to learn from that,” Hendrik Streeck, who leads the University of Bonn’s virology institute, told the New York Times. Degen told me that “the [death] rate has been steadily rising” — it’s roughly at 3 percent now — “and we expect it to further do so.” She added that it’s “very important to stress that Germany is still at the beginning of the epidemic” and that more and more elderly people in the country are getting sick. That’s in large part because French President Emmanuel Macron and his team completely missed their chance to quash the disease early on. Health officials advised citizens to wash their hands, keep a safe distance from others, cover their mouths when sneezing, and stay away from retirement homes. And even as Macron held video conference calls on the virus and inspected hospitals and clinics to see how his country was coping, few concrete actions were taken to imposestrict social distancing measures or promote large-scale testing. To make matters worse, France couldn’t get a clear picture of the growing problem due to a lack of tests. That severely limitedthe country’s ability to do widespread testing early on, which public health experts say is critical to slowing an outbreak. As Reuters reports, during the week of February 17, hundreds of worshippers from around the world attended an annual celebration at the Christian Open Door evangelical megachurch in Mulhouse, a city in eastern France near the country’s border with Germany. “Worshippers at the church [had] unwittingly taken the disease caused by the virus home to the West African state of Burkina Faso, to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, to Guyana in Latin America, to Switzerland, to aFrench nuclear power plant, and into the workshops of one of Europe’s biggest automakers,” Reuters reports. “We realized that we had a time bomb in front of us,” Michel Vernay, an epidemiologist with France’s national public health agency, told Reuters in March.