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Why Germany's coronavirus strategy might come back to haunt it

  • Germany's coronavirus epidemic, and strategy to deal with the virus, has not been the same as itsEuropean counterparts.
  • It has seen far fewer cases, and even lower fatalities, than its neighbors.
  • Germany's decentralized approach to managing the virus could prove tricky, one expert says.

Germany's coronavirus epidemic, and strategy to deal with the virus, has not been the same as its European counterparts.

This might be a good thing, given that Germany has recorded 397,922 cases of the virus, far lower than Spain, which now has over one million cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, along with France.

It has also recorded far fewer deaths related to the coronavirus, with the tally at 9,905 and rising very slowly despite a second wave of infections as seen in the rest of the continent. Germany has put its relatively milder experience of the pandemic down to its modern healthcare system and robust testing and contact tracing regime.

The country has also differed from its European peers at a political level in that it has taken largely a decentralized approach to managing the virus response.

But that approach could prove to be a double-edged sword when it comes to clear public guidance and messaging on the virus, however, according to Carsten Nickel, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence.

"The question is whether Germany's strength since the beginning of the pandemic – the not just local imposition but in fact locally-driven design of restrictive as well as support measures – will turn into an obstacle," Nickel said. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel "emphatically called for compliance over the weekend, but only clear-cut nationwide messaging might still prevent the need for more stringent lockdowns in winter," he warned.

As other national governments around Europe imposed restrictions, varying from national lockdowns to localized measures (albeit with the agreement, and sometimes reluctant acceptance of local leaders) Germany has devolved the management of the virus and restrictions to regional leaders within its 16 states.

This has meant that, as well as national messaging such as Merkel last weekend imploring all Germans to avoid non-essential travel and gatherings and general rules on social distancing and mask-wearing, there are also restrictions that differ from state to state.

The move is based on the respective infection rates seen in different German states, some of which have large populations; North Rhine-Westphalia has 17.9 million inhabitants, for example, and has seen the largest number of recorded cases per state, with 97,507 cases.

On Tuesday, Germany recorded a 7-day incidence of 48.6 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Robert Koch Institute, whereas the 7-day incidence in Berlin, Bremen, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland is "considerably" higher than the national mean 7-day incidence, the public health body said, and "slightly higher" in Bavaria.

"Politically, Germany has so far fared well with its traditionally decentralized approach, with local and regional authorities agreeing on joint pandemic management rather than Berlin imposing rules for lower-level authorities to follow through on," Teneo Intelligence's Nickel said.

"But the question now is how citizens across the country can be brought to comply with an ideally simple and transparent set of rules while, at the same time, enough room is left for differentiation between more and less affected regions," he said.

Negotiations on regional rules between regional leaders and the national government can be a fractious process too. Nickel cited drawn-out talks last week between Merkel and regional leaders to agree on new restrictions, such as thresholds for private gatherings and restrictions on leisure travel from areas with higher infection rates.

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Trump says he will take coronavirus test before next debate with Joe Biden

  • President Donald Trump said he will take a coronavirus test before his next debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
  • Trump and Biden are set to square off Thursday for their second debate in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Trump tested positive for Covid-19 and was hospitalized for several days on the heels of his first debate with the former vice president.

President Donald Trump said Monday that he will take a coronavirus test before his upcoming debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump earlier this month tested positive for Covid-19 and was hospitalized for several days on the heels of his first debate with the former vice president, but since then has been declared free of the virus by his doctor.

The two men are set to square off for their second and final debate Thursday evening at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

That debate originally was supposed to be the third one of the 2020 election campaign.

But the second scheduled debate, originally planned for last Thursday, was scrapped after Trump balked at a plan by the Commission on Presidential Debates to hold the showdown virtually, instead of in person, in light of the president's positive diagnosis.

Trump has claimed he does not remember whether he was tested for the virus on the day of the first debate, Sept. 29, in Cleveland. That debate occurred two days before Trump tested positive for Covid-19.

"Possibly I did, possibly I didn't," Trump told NBC's Savannah Guthrie last Thursday when asked if he took a test on the day of that debate.

Trump's sit-down with Guthrie and one for Biden at the same time on ABC were scheduled because of the second planned debate's cancellation.

The president and his aides have repeatedly refused to reveal when he last tested negative for the coronavirus before he tested positive at the beginning of October.

On Monday, when a reporter asked Trump if he would take a test before Thursday's debate, the president replied, "I would have no problem with it."

" I'm totally free, right," Trump said, referring to test results released by the White House physician last week indicating he was negative for the virus on consecutive days.

"I'm immune, they say. They say if you've had it, you are immune," he said.

Trump's claim contradicts a recent report in the British medical journal The Lancet, which said that "the degree of protective immunity conferred by infection" with Covid-19 "is currently unknown."

That article detailed two cases of coronavirus reinfections in the same person.

Trump again refused to say Monday when his last negative test was before he tested positive.

The president said, "Is that very important to you?" and "Why is it so important to you?" when a reporter pressed him on that question.

Trump then said, falsely, "my doctors have already given it."

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U.S. reports highest number of new coronavirus case since late July as total climbs above 8 million

  • The United States reported more than 69,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the country's total count to over 8 million reported cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
  • The last time the U.S. reported a daily count that high was in late July as the coronavirus swept through Sun Belt states.
  • The surge in cases comes as infectious disease experts warn the U.S. could face a "substantial third wave" of infections this winter.

The United States reported more than 69,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest daily count the nation has reported since late July.

The U.S. has now reported more than 8 million Covid-19 cases and at least 218,600 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The surge in coronavirus cases comes as infectious disease experts warn the U.S. could face a "substantial third wave" of infections that will be further complicated this winter by the spread of seasonal influenza, which causes many similar symptoms to that of the coronavirus.

As colder temperatures arrive in the Northern Hemisphere, more people will spend time indoors and likely fail to follow public health guidance, which creates a greater risk for the cornoavirus' spread compared with outdoor activities, Dr. William Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University, said.

The U.S. is averaging roughly 55,000 new coronavirus cases every day, based on a weekly average to smooth out the reporting, a more than 16% increase compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins data. New cases were growing by 5% or more in 38 states as the number of infections in the Midwest continues to surge.

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"We need to pay more attention to this. We seem to forget that we're making progress, we're doing better, and then we kind of let go and we go back again," Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor at the Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, told CNBC on Friday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, has warned for weeks that the daily number of new cases has remained "unacceptably high" heading into the end of the year. However, it's not too late to "vigorously apply" recommended public health measures, such as wearing a mask and maintaining a physical distance from others, Fauci told Johns Hopkins University on Thursday.

When the U.S. descended from its first peak in April, the number of new coronavirus cases "got stuck" around 20,000 per day, Fauci said. Ideally, the U.S. would've reported less than 10,000 cases every day, he said.

Then cases resurged. The number of daily new Covid-19 cases swelled to a high of nearly 70,000 cases a day before subsiding once again. However, new cases have since hovered between 40,000 to 50,000 cases a day.

"You can't enter into the cool months of the fall and the cold months of the winter with a high community infection baseline," Fauci said. He added that the positivity rate, or the percentage of tests that are positive, is "going in the wrong direction" in more than 30 states.

— CNBC's Will Feuer and Nate Rattner contributed to this report.

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WHO warns Canada is facing a 'second wave' of coronavirus cases

  • Canada is facing a second wave of coronavirus cases as the provinces of Quebec and Ontario report the bulk of the country's Covid-19 death toll, PAHO's top health official warned Wednesday.
  • Nearly 80% of all of Canada's cases have stemmed from Ontario and Quebec, its two most populated provinces.
  • Ontario officials ordered indoor gyms, movie theaters, casinos, performing arts venues and indoor dining at restaurants to close over the weekend in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto for at least 28 days.

Canada is facing a second wave of coronavirus cases as the provinces of Quebec and Ontario report the bulk of the country's Covid-19 death toll, the Pan American Health Organization's top health official warned Wednesday.

"Canada is currently facing its second wave, and areas that were not previously affected are now surpassing the numbers seen during the first wave," Carissa Etienne, director of PAHO and World Health Organization regional director for the Americas, said at a news briefing. 

"The state of the pandemic in the Americas remains complex," she said.

New Covid-19 cases in Canada have grown by more than 6% compared with a week ago as of Tuesday, based on a seven-day average to smooth out daily jumps in reporting, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

During its peak in April, Canada reported roughly 1,700 daily new cases based on a weekly average but was able to suppress that figure to only a few hundred by mid-July. Cases have since surged across Canada, which is now reporting over 2,200 daily new cases a day, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Nearly 80% of all of Canada's cases have stemmed from Ontario and Quebec, its two most populated provinces. The coronavirus has killed nearly 9,000 people combined in the two provinces, constituting roughly 93% of the country's total death toll, according to Canada's government data.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said late last week that the recent increase in cases has placed "enormous pressure" on the nation's hospitals and health-care workers who are "more and more overwhelmed." He also urged residents to not gather during the nation's Thanksgiving festivities on Monday.

"We are at a tipping point in this pandemic," Trudeau said at a news conference Friday, adding that Canada's second wave is "under way."

In Ontario, officials ordered indoor gyms, movie theaters, casinos, performing arts venues and indoor dining at restaurants, along with other establishments, to close over the weekend in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto for at least 28 days.

The government warned Ontario could experience "worst-case scenarios seen in northern Italy and New York City" if trends continue, Reuters reported on Friday.

"They need to monitor very close the situation," PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said during the news briefing Wednesday, noting that Ontario has already adapted their strategies in the region and have warned residents of the significant increase in cases.

However, if residents don't comply with the warnings, the province could likely "see a scenario similar to what happened in New York and Italy," he added.

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Mike Pence and Kamala Harris vice presidential debate to have plexiglass barrier because of coronavirus concerns

  • A plexiglass barrier will separate Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris at their vice presidential debate.
  • It is the second such measure taken to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission on the heels of President Donald Trump contracting Covid-19.
  • In addition to Trump and first lady Melania Trump, the president's re-election campaign manager Bill Stepien, top Trump advisors Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany have the coronavirus.

A plexiglass barrier will separate Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris at their vice presidential debate Wednesday, the second such measure taken to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission on the heels of President Donald Trump contracting Covid-19, NBC News confirmed on Monday.

A source familiar with the debate planning told NBC News that the California Democrat Harris' campaign asked for the plexiglass to be used, and that the Commission on Presidential Debates approved the request.

The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

Politico first reported that the plexiglass would be used at the debate in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday night.

The news outlet said that the Pence campaign opposed the precaution.

Pence's spokeswoman, Katie Miller, told NBC News, as she had already told Poltico, "If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it."

Miller herself was diagnosed with the coronavirus in May.

The Commission on Presidential Debates already had said that Pence and Harris would be positioned 13 feet apart, as opposed to the original plan to have them seated seven feet from each other for their first and only face-to-face showdown.

Trump disclosed last Friday that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. He had debated former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, last Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Biden, as well as Pence, has tested negative for the virus since then.

In addition to the Trumps, at least 16 other people in the White House or who have attended the Trump-Biden debate or Trump-related events have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including the president's re-election campaign manager Bill Stepien, top Trump advisors Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

Over the weekend, Jamie Harrison, the Democratic nominee for the Senate in South Carolina, brought his own plexiglass barrier for his debate with incumbent Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham.

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'Raging epidemic is not inevitable' — Dr. Scott Gottlieb believes China case count and rips U.S.

  • Dr. Scott Gottlieb expressed disappointment with the state of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic. 
  • "The entire Pacific Rim has less than 1,000 infections a day. Having a raging epidemic is not inevitable," the former FDA chief told CNBC.
  • Gottlieb doesn't believe China is lying about their much fewer case counts. "The entire Pacific Rim isn't in on the conspiracy."

Dr. Scott Gottlieb on Monday lamented the persistent spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., suggesting the nation's response pales in comparison to other places around the world.

"The entire Pacific Rim has less than 1,000 infections a day. Having a raging epidemic is not inevitable," Gottlieb said on "Squawk Box," referring to countries such as China, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Australia. 

"People want to say China is lying about the two dozen cases that they're reporting a day, which I don't believe they are [lying]. Certainly, the entire Pacific Rim isn't in on the conspiracy. It isn't inevitable that we have a raging epidemic," added the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner under President Donald Trump. 

Gottlieb's comments come as some states and cities in the U.S., particularly those in the Midwest and some neighborhoods in New York City, are experiencing growing outbreaks of Covid-19, and while Trump is hospitalized with the disease. The European continent also began to see increasing cases last month, with Paris and its surrounding suburbs being put on "maximum alert" Monday.

"This seems to be something in Western democracies where things like masks have become part of a political debate over individual liberty and we just can't bring ourselves to wear them," Gottlieb said. "People talk about the importance of opening schools, and then they argue against masks."

Gottlieb emphasized that there are ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus without implementing widespread lockdowns. He has previously defended the initial stay-at-home measures from states in March, saying the country did not have enough testing to know where the virus was spreading. 

However, he said that now, in this stage of the outbreak, those should be used only on a targeted basis in cities with dense epidemics, provided the country can abide by other known strategies to minimize coronavirus spread.

"Nothing is going to be zero risk. But if we do it on a large scale, there are ways to allow important activities to continue," Gottlieb said. "But if we're going to say, 'Look we don't want to wear masks, we don't want to close the bars, and we don't want to have this thing spread,' that's not going to add up. We're going to have to make some sacrifices." 

Gottlieb and numerous public health experts have warned the U.S. could experience a significant rise of coronavirus cases in the fall and winter, as colder weather brings more people indoors. It appears that resurgence is underway, Gottlieb said. 

"We're going to get through this and we're going to get to the other side of it. The question is, how much death and suffering we endure along the way, as well as economic hardship too?" Gottlieb said. 

Some people have raised concerns about whether coronavirus restrictions represent civil liberty violations. Last month, for example, a federal judge struck down some policies implemented by Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, including a ban on large gatherings. The restrictions have been allowed to remain while the Wolf administration appeals the ruling. 

Gottlieb pushed back on the suggestion that public health restrictions were unenforceable in the United States. "It's not a question of just enforcing them. It's a question of whether or not as a population, we want to take some simple, collective action to preserve the things that are important to us."  

Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC contributor and is a member of the boards of Pfizer, genetic-testing start-up Tempus and biotech company Illumina. He also serves as co-chair of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings′ and Royal Caribbean's "Healthy Sail Panel." 

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