The biggest reason for the difference is Germany’s early testing to track and contain infection clusters. That means Germany has a truer picture of the size of its outbreak than places that test only the obviously symptomatic, most seriously ill or highest-risk patients. Germany, with 31,150 cases at midday Tuesday, appeared to have a larger outbreak than France, with 20,149. But the higher death rate in France implies there were more undiagnosed cases there. France’s outbreak could be larger than Germany’s. Because testing is not universal, and many people with the coronavirus might never be diagnosed, a true death rate is impossible to ascertain.
Initially, at least, the country’s health authorities tracked infection clusters meticulously. When an individual tested positive, they used contact tracing to find other people with whom they had been in touch and then tested and quarantined them, which broke infection chains. Germany’s initial testing criteria were no wider than Italy’s. People were tested if they had symptoms and had been to a risk area, or if they had contact with a confirmed case. But many initial cases had clear links to overseas travel.