COVID-19: Profile of a killer, new IFR estimate from Germany, and Merkel accelerates reopening

Profile of a killer: the complex biology powering the coronavirus pandemic

David Cyranoski, writing in Nature, offers what I think might be the single best summary of what we know about SARS CoV-2.

Interestingly, Klaus Stöhr, who was head of the World Health Organization’s SARS research and epidemiology division, offers some perspective that echoes my own thoughts from March.

“Stöhr says that immunity will not be perfect — people who are reinfected will still develop minor symptoms, the way they do now from the common cold, and there will be rare examples of severe disease. But the virus’s proofreading mechanism means it will not mutate quickly, and people who were infected will retain robust protection, he says.

‘By far the most likely scenario is that the virus will continue to spread and infect most of the world population in a relatively short period of time,’ says Stöhr, meaning one to two years. ‘Afterwards, the virus will continue to spread in the human population, likely forever.’ Like the four generally mild human coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 would then circulate constantly and cause mainly mild upper respiratory tract infections, says Stöhr. For that reason, he adds, vaccines won’t be necessary.

Some previous studies support this argument. One showed that when people were inoculated with the common-cold coronavirus 229E, their antibody levels peaked two weeks later and were only slightly raised after a year. That did not prevent infections a year later, but subsequent infections led to few, if any, symptoms and a shorter period of viral shedding.”

Meanwhile, some takeaways from a major study out of Germany’s University of Bonn that was recently published:

  • The study recruited over 900 people from 400 households (entire households, in which all individuals live together, were recruited).
  • The infection fatality rate (IFR) is estimated to be 0.37%, though lead author virologist Hendrik Streeck says that the team feels this is an overestimate and that the true IFR is closer to 0.2%.
  • The results suggest that there are as many as 1.8 million people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Germany.

Streeck did an extensive interview on UnHerd which can be seen here:

It’s worth noting that Streeck’s IFR estimates line up with CEBM’s range of 0.1-0.41%, and fall in the middle of estimates by other experts interviewed by UnHerd; Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson assumes an IFR of 0.8-0.9% and Sweden’s top epidemiologist Johan Giesecke believes it is closer to 0.1%.

Finally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s been praised for the role her scientific background contributed to her handling of the pandemic, has decided to accelerate the reopening of her country.

Germany is planning an almost complete return to normality in May, with schools and shops reopening and the return of top-flight Bundesliga football matches, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.

All schools and shops will now be able to open as long as they observe hygiene and social distancing rules, with the Bundesliga resuming behind closed doors, Merkel said after a meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states.

‘I believe we can say today that we have the very first phase of the pandemic behind us,’ Merkel said, adding that Germany had ‘achieved the goal’ of slowing the spread of the virus.

Schools had already been allowed to open, but only so far to older children.”