BERLIN, March 26 (Reuters) - Germany is still in "the calm before the storm" of the coronavirus epidemic and is using the time it has won with extensive testing to prepare for a wave of cases expected in the coming weeks, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday.
As of Wednesday, there were 36,508 cases of coronavirus in Germany, with 198 deaths, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said. That compares with 74,386 confirmed cases in Italy, where 7,503 have died.
Spahn said Germany had conducted between 300,000 and 500,000 tests for the virus in the last week.
"That allows us to prepare earlier than has perhaps been possible in other countries," he told reporters.
"We want to use this time," he said, adding that Germany was working hard to double its intensive care capacity.
But he warned: "This is still the calm before the storm. No one can say exactly what's coming in the next few weeks."
Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany's strategy was to slow the spread of the virus by testing for cases and isolating patients, protect those people who need protection, and at least double the care capacity.
"We are just starting out to fight the corona(virus) epidemic. The numbers will rise further," Wieler said. (Writing by Paul Carrel, editing by Thomas Escritt)