They call them corona taxis: Medics outfitted in protective gear, driving around the empty streets of Heidelberg to check on patients who are at home, five or six days into being sick with the coronavirus.
They take a blood test, looking for signs that a patient is about to go into a steep decline. They might suggest hospitalization, even to a patient who has only mild symptoms; the chances of surviving that decline are vastly improved by being in a hospital when it begins.
“There is this tipping point at the end of the first week,” said Prof. Hans-Georg Kräusslich, the head of virology at University Hospital in Heidelberg, one of the country’s leading research hospitals. “If you are a person whose lungs might fail, that’s when you will start deteriorating.”
Heidelberg’s corona taxis are only one initiative in one city. But they illustrate a level of engagement and a commitment of public resources in fighting the epidemic that help explain one of the most intriguing puzzles of the pandemic: Why is Germany’s death rate so low?
The virus and the resulting disease, Covid-19, have hit Germany with force: According to Johns Hopkins University, the country had more than 90,000 laboratory-confirmed infections by Friday evening, more than any other country except the United States, Italy and Spain.