Germany is carrying out Europe's first large-scale COVID-19 antibody testing to monitor infection rates and help prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal disease control and prevention agency, the first part of the study is to draw on the country's blood donation services nationwide, a second phase will focus on samples from regions with large coronavirus outbreaks and a third stage will consist of a representative study of the country's broader population.

Authorities say they will examine approximately 5,000 blood samples every 14 days, while regions like Bavaria plan to collect around 3,000 samples from representatively selected households. "It is not yet known how many people in Germany have actually gone through an infection and are therefore immune," read an April 9 news release from the institute. "The infection is often mild or even unnoticed."

Antibodies in the blood are an indication that someone has had the virus. The institute theorizes that these people have at least some level of immunity, although there is no guarantee of full immunity or how long it would last.

The antibody test launched last week and initial results are expected in May.

Germany, which produces most of its own high-quality test kits, is testing for COVID-19 on a greater scale than most countries: an estimated 120,000 tests a day in a nation of 83 million. The high level of testing has helped Germany slow the spread of the virus and keep deaths low. Authorities estimate more people in Germany now recover from the virus every day than are infected by it.

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