On January 27, 2020, a team led by Dr. Camilla Rothe, Senior Physician at LMU University Hospital’s Division of Tropical Medicine, identified the first case of the novel coronavirus in Germany. The patient had evidently been infected by a colleague from China who was perfectly healthy and exhibited no symptoms. Dr. Rothe and her team were thus among the first to document an asymptomatic Covid-19 infection. Analysis of several patient cohorts today shows that 30 to 40 percent of all individuals infected with the virus present no symptoms but are highly contagious. Although Dr. Rothe’s observations were initially met by skepticism and denial, her discovery ultimately saved hundreds of lives. That was reason enough for Time Magazine to include Camilla Rothe in its list of the 100 Most Influential People in 2020.
It also prompted Bernd Sibler, Bavaria’s Minister for Science and the Arts, to honor the physician with the Free State of Bavaria’s Pro Meritis Scientiae et Litterarum award, which his ministry has presented every year since 2000. “As a specialist in tropical medicine who has already dealt with extremely infectious pathogens such as Ebola, you are accustomed to keeping your cool,” Minister Silber said during his laudation at the Ministry of Science. “And you reacted just as calmly when you identified the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen in a German patient for the first time.” Sibler went on to stress that her firm resolve makes her a role model for many scientists, as courageous researchers who are not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths are vital to fruitful discourse in an open society. While this principle naturally applies at all times, the minister added, it is all the more pertinent in an extreme situation such as a pandemic.
“I am delighted to receive this award,” Rothe said. “But I would like to emphasize that it comes in recognition of the successful work done by my whole team.”
Her work on the coronavirus infection drew accolades from around the globe – including from the New York Times, whose coverage of the pandemic recently won it the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
The purpose of the Pro Meritis Scientiae et Litterarum award is to honor individuals for outstanding achievements in the service of science and the arts. Another objective is for the prize to embody culture as an integral whole – to help people once again perceive science and the arts as two sides of the same coin.