The Covid-19 coronavirus in Germany has been centred on the Heinsberg district near the border with the Netherlands, where the virus has spread more widely than anywhere else in the country.
The disease is now known to have been introduced by a 47-year-old man who attended the carnival at Gangelt-Langbroich and went to a ‘jeck’ party (jeck is a German carnival masquerader) on 15 February. The disease passed to some of the 500 revellers at the event and within two weeks the man was on a ventilator and 37 people were known to be infected. Despite the German authorities’ rigorous testing and tracing of contacts, by 31 March there had been 1,281 confirmed infections and 34 deaths in Heinsberg.
It is not the first instance of a carnival being implicated in the spread of disease, or of carnivals being abandoned for fear of spreading infection. Many carnivals in Brazil were cancelled in 2016 due to the zika virus.
Nevertheless, Gangelt Carnival’s misfortune may lead to lasting benefits, as researchers have adopted Heinsberg as a living ‘laboratory’ to try to understand exactly how Covid-19 spreads. Virologists and medical students will monitor the lives of 1,000 residents (and their pets) to try to see how the virus spreads in families, hospitals, kindergartens and public spaces with the aim of finding how best to manage future outbreaks.