BEHIND THE CURVE
But health officials dismissed the risk for months, pushing misleading and contradictory claims
in the face of mounting evidence.
MUNICH — Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory
called with the surprising test result.
It was Jan. 27.
She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.
But the diagnosis made no sense.
Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person:
a colleague visiting from China.
And that colleague should not have been contagious.
The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany.
No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings.
She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China.
Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.
Scientists at the time believed that only people with symptoms could spread the coronavirus.
They assumed it acted like its genetic cousin, SARS.
“People who know much more about coronaviruses than I do were absolutely sure,” recalled Dr. Rothe,
an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital.
But if the experts were wrong, if the virus could spread from seemingly healthy carriers or people who had not yet developed
symptoms, the ramifications were potentially catastrophic.
Public-awareness campaigns, airport screening and stay-home-if-you’re sick policies might not stop it.
More aggressive measures might be required — ordering healthy people to wear masks, for instance,
or restricting international travel.
Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world.
But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence
that symptomless spreading was not important.
In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged
or ignored the Munich team.
Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in
French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars.
A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading.
By Matt Apuzzo, Selam Gebrekidan and
Photo Credits: Credit…Max Whittaker, Andrew Testa, Dmitry Kostyukov, Alessandro Grassani and Victor Moriyama, Adam Dean and Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times/ Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters /
….bet I don’t get out that cheap ….w