Germany is already making preparations for a second wave of coronavirus by increasing its intensive care capacity and supply of ventilators.
Soldiers are converting a Berlin exhibition centre into a hospital while a fifth of intensive care beds will be kept in reserve even as the epidemic loses pace.
The government also plans to roll out a contact tracing app in the coming weeks to jump on new outbreaks once the lockdown is eased.
Germany’s infection rate has slowed to a record low this week, with only a 1.6 per cent growth in cases for each of the last three days.
Some shops have already re-opened but Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned that Germany must not become complacent, saying the country is still ‘on thin ice’.
The Robert Koch diseases institute said today that infections need to fall to a few hundred per day before the lockdown can be eased further. Today’s figure was 2,337, bringing the total from 148,046 to 150,383.
This graph shows the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Germany. Today’s figure of 2,337 means the rate of growth has stayed at 1.6 per cent for three days running
This chart shows the number of deaths, which reached a peak of 315 on April 16 but has never reached the daily numbers seen in Britain, Spain and Italy
Germany’s death toll rose by 227 today, a similar figure to yesterday’s 215, taking the overall tally from 5,094 to 5,321.
Germany’s mortality rate has risen to 3.5 per cent, but is still far below that in Italy (13.4 per cent), Britain (14.0 per cent) or Spain (10.4 per cent).
Virologist Christian Drosten of Berlin’s Charite hospital has warned that the virus could return with a ‘totally different force’.
‘The virus will continue to spread in the course of the next weeks and months,’ Drosten told public broadcaster NDR.
A second wave would be dangerous because it could pop up ‘everywhere at the same time,’ Drosten said.
‘We may be in the process of completely squandering our head start,’ he said, warning against complacency.
Germany has been widely praised for its handling of the crisis after carrying out mass testing, having enough hospital space to take in patients from France and Italy, and seeing a lower death rate than most of its neighbours.
But the country is still throwing vast resources at increasing its supply of intensive care beds equipped with ventilators.
Guests including Berlin mayor Michael Mueller (second left) inspect a ward at the Berlin exhibition centre which is being converted into a new hospital
Construction work continues at the Berlin exhibition centre yesterday where a new coronavirus hospital will have 1,000 beds
At the university hospital in Aachen, close to the Dutch border, dozens of beds lie empty in case of a resurgence in cases.
‘We are ready to react dynamically,’ said Gernot Marx, director of intensive care at the hospital, which treated some of the first serious cases earlier this year.
‘We have not yet had to decide (to treat one patient over another)… due to the high bed capacity and good preparation,’ added fellow doctor Anne Bruecken. ‘I hope it stays that way.
Almost 13,000 of Germany’s 32,000 intensive care beds remained free at the last count.
From the start of the crisis, Germany had much more space than its European neighbours, with 33.9 intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 8.6 in Italy and 16.3 in France.
And it has since drastically expanded intensive care and screening capacities.
‘Germany is prepared for a possible second wave,’ said Gerald Gass, president of the German Hospitals Society (DKG).
‘In the coming months, we plan to keep around 20 per cent of our beds with respiratory assistance free,’ Gass said.
‘We want to be able to free up a further 20 per cent at 72 hours’ notice if a second wave comes,’ he said.
A coronavirus patient lying on his back is treated by medical workers wearing protective suits at a community hospital in Berlin on Monday
Gass has called on hospitals to slowly return to treating patients whose cases were suspended during the crisis.
‘In general, our hospitals are less busy now than they are usually,’ he said.
Berlin’s current strategy is to pursue a step-by-step return to normality, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of tests a week.
Merkel has said the aim is to be able to return to a stage where infection numbers are low enough to allow contact chains to be traced and isolated.
To that end, a contact tracing app is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Masks are now also obligatory on public transport across the country and, in some states, in shops as well.
‘We have now learned that a dynamic development in infections means an immediate burden for the health system,’ said Gass.
‘That means we need to use tests to very quickly identify what effect the step-by-step lifting of restrictions is having.’