Germany and the UK went into lockdown within a day of each other.
Now, one month on, as Berlin begins to ease it itself out of its coronavirus lockdown, the UK remains in the grip of widespread restrictions that has brought the country to a near standstill.
The difference in death tolls – of countries with broadly similar sizes of population – is stark, with the UK suffering more than 18,700 deaths while Germany has reported 5,500.
As a result, there is a growing focus in the UK on whether we were too slow to act. Here is how the two countries have responded to the crisis – and what Germany did that has led to fewer deaths.
When did Germany lock down vs the UK?
Some experts have suggested the UK and Germany’s differing reactions to the outbreak have – potentially – been a reason behind how successfully they have dealt with the outbreak.
Germany embarked on a process of mass testing far sooner than the UK, which meant the number of cases far outstripped that in Britain.
The University of Oxford’s professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute medical research centre, says that this may have led some to believe Germany was further ahead in the cycle than it actually was.
He believes it is important to “draw the correct conclusions” from Germany’s reaction to the crisis.
He said Germany had “clearly done better than the UK in this first wave” and believes Germany may have locked down earlier in its “disease cycle” – which could explain why it suffered far fewer deaths so far.
Both countries began to impose restrictions on people’s movement within two days of each other.
However, by that time the number of deaths recorded by the UK was significantly higher than in Germany - suggesting Britain was further into the pandemic.
Germany locked down on 22 March, with 94 deaths, while the UK followed suit the next day – although by then the number of dead had already reached 335.
Concerns about when the UK went into lockdown have been acknowledged by the chief medical officer for England, professor Chris Whitty, who said at a Downing Street press conference earlier this month: “We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus and there’s a lot to learn from that and we’ve been trying to learn the lessons from that.”
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
“Germany may well have locked down, an effective means of suppressing the virus, earlier in its disease cycle than did the UK,” professor Naismith said.
“This factor could explain a very large part of Germany’s success.”
More testing to detect coronavirus cases
He said Germany’s extensive testing could have caused observers to think it was further ahead in its outbreak when it was actually behind the UK – Britain was simply not testing as much.
Germany was testing in the community while the UK has focused on testing patients and NHS workers.
The British government is aiming for 100,000 tests a day, which would bring it closer to the 730,000 a week Germany’s public heath organisation the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) says it is carrying out.
British ministers have said the UK has capacity to run 40,000 tests a day.
The RKI wants to be able to carry out a million a day, checking anyone who has a respiratory illness or airway infection.
Writing in The Conversation, the University of Kent’s Dr Jeremy Rossman, honorary senior lecturer in virology and president of Research-Aid Networks, said Germany’s federal structure – where states have large amounts of powers – helped with its testing.
“Germany’s robust and rapid testing programme was helped by the use of a distributed network of testing through individual hospitals, clinics and laboratories, instead of relying on tests from a single government resource, as was the case in countries such as the US and the UK,” he added.
“I do think testing is very important and Germany has been the most efficient in Europe, identifying asymptomatic as well as ill individuals,” professor Naismith said.
“Reaching a definitive answer will take access to more data and further analysis.
“While we have things to learn from Germany, there is a real danger in focussing all our energy, resources and attention on one number, the daily number of tests, that we miss other lessons.”
Both imposed similar restrictions to slow the virus’s spread
Germany’s lockdown was not as severe as European nations like Spain and Italy.
It banned gatherings of more than two people who weren’t part of the family and shut schools, sports facilities, restaurants and non-essential shops.
The UK banned meeting anyone from outside the household, shut non-essential shops and advised the public to only leave the house for exercise and shopping for important items.
Hancock has said the UK has reached the peak of this COVID-19 outbreak as lockdown measures take effect.
The way out
British ministers may look to Germany and other European states as they begin to ease their lockdowns.
Despite entering just one day earlier, Germany has already taken a first step towards a degree of normality while the UK’s lockdown is due to run for at least another two weeks.
Some smaller non-essential shops have reopened in Germany this week, with bookshops, car showrooms and bike stores also welcoming customers again.
The RKI has said the rate of infection – how many people a person with coronavirus will go on to infect – rose from 0.7 on 17 April to 0.9 by 21 April.
The UK is waiting to see more data before making a call on easing out of lockdown. The government has been under pressure to release a plan for after lockdown.
‘No end in sight’
Although Germany has allowed some businesses to resume, the RKI vice president Lars Schaade said on Tuesday: “There is no end in sight to the epidemic. The number of cases may rise again.
“If we pretend we have overcome the problem, we will have another outbreak - that is certain.”
Politicians have warned that the only way to fully move past the coronavirus is to have a vaccine, and both the UK and Germany have progressed to human trials this week.
Germany’s vaccine regulator approved an effort between Mainz-based BioNtech and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer while the Oxford University will begin testing on people on Thursday, according to health secretary Matt Hancock.
Coronavirus: what happened today
Watch the latest videos from Yahoo UK