By Muhammad Jahangir Alam
The government of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has launched a new research project on the coronavirus pandemic together with the University of Bonn and the administrative district of Heinsberg, where the disease first broke out in Germany in late February.
A team of scientists is interviewing patients and gathering data in the Heinsberg district in order to identify possible causal links with pre-existing conditions and to use findings to formulate disease prevention recommendations for Germany and Europe as a whole.
The researchers, headed by virologist and Director of University Hospital Bonn’s Institute of Virology Hendrik Streeck, hope to gain insights into the infection history of the patients.
“A large number of people had been infected with the coronavirus in the administrative district of Heinsberg before it reached other locations in Germany,” NRW’s Chief Minister Armin Laschet explains. “This means that the Heinsberg region is the starting point – from here, important insights can be gained for the whole of Germany.”
A social distancing regime has been in place throughout the country since late March, and restaurants, pubs and cafes are closed, as are universities and schools. Curfews have also been introduced in some federal states.
The COVID-19 Case Cluster Study started on 30 March and is to cover a period of four weeks. Its objectives include estimating the number of unreported cases of infections and the number who have already recovered from the disease, thus establishing the scale of its impact. Already confirmed cases and households with family members in quarantine are being interviewed.
Virological diagnostics covering the patients’ environment as well as a questionnaire survey are to enable an assessment of whether tests already carried out have yielded correct results and how the virus can be transmitted via the air, surfaces, utensils, food and water. In addition, test persons are to be interviewed regarding preconditions and causal links such as travel, dietary habits or contact with animals. Ideally, this will enable recommendations on prevention for the whole of Europe.