15 percent are probably immune Bonn virologist Streeck presents first findings from study of outbreak area

Bonn · Bonn-based virologist Hendrik Streeck is leading a team to study the area in Heinsberg where the first big outbreak of novel coronavirus occurred in Germany. He presented his findings to the Düsseldorf state parliament on Thursday, receiving criticism from a Berlin virologist.

15 percent are probably immune: Bonn virologist Streeck presents first findings from study of outbreak area
Foto: dpa/Federico Gambarini

All of Germany is waiting for news from Heinsberg. It is the place where the first big outbreak of the novel coronavirus occurred. A team led by Bonn-based virologist Hendrik Streeck is currently researching what the infection chains looked like and how high the spread of infection was in the small community of Gangelt, a municipality in the district of Heinsberg, in North Rhine-Westphalia. Streeck presented the initial interim findings of his field study to the Düsseldorf state parliament on Thursday.

Streeck said that the infection rate in the representative sample was 15 percent. This means that 15 percent of the residents there have already experienced an infection or are currently infected. According to current estimates, they are immune for six to 18 months, said Streeck. This means that the process to achieve herd immunity has already been initiated. Herd immunity is a form of protection in which a high percentage of the population is immune either through vaccination or infection.

Drosten: "I cannot deduce anything from the results"

The Bonn research team also provided information on the mortality rate caused by the virus. The mortality rate in the community of Gangelt was 0.37 percent. The mortality rate in Germany is currently calculated by the Johns Hopkins University at 1.98 percent. The "Heinsberg Protocols" state: "The five-fold higher mortality rate calculated by the Johns Hopkins University compared to this study in Gangelt is explained by the different base size of the infected persons.

In Gangelt, this study covers all infected persons in the sample, including those who are asymptomatic and those with mild cases". Because of that, in Gangelt, significantly more people tested (positive) than in the rest of Germany. The figures cannot then be transferred one-to-one to all of Germany.

The Berlin virologist Christian Drosten criticized the presentation of the results. "I can't deduce anything from them," he said during an online seminar at the Cologne Science Media Center: "It was all a bit vague." Drosten noted that such data are usually first summarized in a scientific manuscript before they are made available to the general public and politicians.

Streeck and his team believe that the strict coronavirus measures in Germany might be relaxed following the initial findings. However, this would require that hygiene and other rules of conduct continue to be strictly adhered to. "We have learned how to conduct ourselves when it comes to hygiene," said Streeck. It is possible to enter "phase two".

(Orig. text: Philipp Jacobs / Translation: ck)

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