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Coronavirus in Europe: 'So far, containment is working'

Bernd Riegert | Jenipher Camino Gonzalez
February 13, 2020

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn tells DW that efforts to hold back the coronavirus in Europe are working, but he cautioned that "things could get worse before they get better."

DW's Bernd Riegert interviews Jens Spahn
Image: DW/L. Schulten

Speaking to DW in Brussels after a meeting of European health ministers on Thursday, Germany's Jens Spahn said that Berlin was engaged in coordinated action with EU partners to combat the coronavirus' spread.

At the meeting, ministers discussed "measures regarding travel, while safeguarding the free movement within the EU," according to their joint statement.

Spahn told DW that a coordinated approach within the EU and internationally was required. He emphasized the importance of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus to ensure it does not proliferate in regions beyond China.

"So far it's just a regional epidemic outbreak in China, but we need to be sure that it does not become a real epidemic or a pandemic worldwide," Spahn said.

"So far, in Europe and the European Union, detection and containment is working," Spahn said. "But we have to admit, that's today. It could get worse before it gets better, because as long as it's not under control in China, these regional epidemics can transform into a worldwide pandemic."

Read more: Coronavirus: China reports almost 5,000 new cases

Yes to pilot reports, no to airport temperature checks

When asked about whether or not Germany should consider restricting travel to China, the health minister pointed to restrictive measures that are already in place.

He noted that pilots on direct flights from China to Germany were already required to report passengers with symptoms on approach for landing.

"We might need additional measures to know which passengers have been in contact with people from the Wuhan region, and that is what we have discussed here at the [European] Council," Spahn said.

In terms of the number of cases reported and whether data coming from China was reliable, Spahn said he believed in the existence of more cases than public figures currently reflect.

"We know that there are many, many symptom-free cases. So I would assume there are many more cases than we see in the statistics," he said.

Read more: China coronavirus adds to German automakers' woes

Citywide lockdowns a step too far?

Spahn praised much of the work that China has done to contain the virus, but also implied that some measures taken in China might have been to draconian. He drew a comparison with recent cases, albeit on a far smaller scale, of measles in Germany. 

"For example, if there is a measles outbreak in Germany, and measles are much more infectious than what we see with the coronavirus so far, we actually are able to deal with it without putting whole cities under quarantine."

Germany has recorded 16 cases on coronavirus on its soil to date, 14 of which connected to a German-Chinese auto parts company in Bavaria. The other two were passengers on flights to Frankfurt am Main airport who were identified on arrival.

DW's Bernd Riegert conducted the interview in Brussels. 

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union