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Many people may already have immunity to coronavirus, German study finds

Scientists detected antibodies to the virus in people who had shown no symptoms

Report by: The Telegrapgh

Many more people may have been infected with coronavirus and acquired immunity than previously thought, according to a groundbreaking study in Germany.

Scientists studying the town at the epicentre of the country’s first major outbreak said they had found antibodies to the virus in people who had shown no symptoms and were not previously thought to have been infected.

Initial results released on Thursday suggest that as many as 15 per cent of people in Gangelt, in Heinsberg district,  may already have immunity – three times as many as previous estimates.

The findings suggest the mortality rate for the virus in Germany is just 0.37 per cent — five times lower than current estimates.

“This means a gradual relaxation of the lockdown is now possible,” Prof Hendrik Streeck, the virologist leading the study, told a press conference. “Because the people in Germany have been so careful and disciplined, we are now able to move on to the second phase.”

But Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, dashed hopes of an early end to the lockdown, saying: “We must not be reckless now. We could very quickly destroy what we have achieved.”

The study in Gangelt is the first in Europe to research the effects of the virus on an entire community. Scientists from the University of Bonn are testing around 1,000 people from 400 households for antibodies as well as signs of current infection.

Initial results, based on around half the tests, found two per cent of inhabitants are currently infected and 14 per cent had antibodies to the virus. Allowing for overlap, that suggests 15 per cent of people in the town now have immunity, compared to the previous estimate of five per cent.

“The 15 percent is not that far from the 60 per cent we need for herd immunity,” Prof Gunther Hartmann, another of the study’s leaders, said.

“With 60 to 70 per cent herd immunity, the virus will completely disappear from the population. Then the elderly are no longer at risk.”

The figures cannot be extrapolated to the rest of Germany because Gangelt had a higher rate of infection, but the study’s authors said they were grounds for cautious optimism.  An immunity rate of 15 per cent is already enough to slow the spread of the virus significantly, they said in a joint statement.

The findings suggest the mortality rate of the virus may be lower than previously thought. The study found a mortality rate of 0.37 per cent, compared to Johns Hopkins University’s current estimate for Germany of 1.98 per cent.

The study’s authors said their findings could be closer to the real figure for the virus because they had detected so many previously unknown infections.

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