EXPLAINER: Can Switzerland handle the coronavirus pandemic?

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EXPLAINER: Can Switzerland handle the coronavirus pandemic?
Geneva University Hospital is ready for the influx of coronavirus patients. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini /AFP

With more than 2,200 cases now confirmed throughout the country and more expected in the coming days, is the Swiss healthcare system sufficiently prepared to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic?


How many coronavirus patients will have to be hospitalised?

Given the fast evolution of the coronavirus outbreak, exact numbers are hard to predict at this point.

However, Swiss Association of Intensive Care (SSMI) estimates that 15-20 percent of people infected with Covid-19 would have to be hospitalised. Roughly half of these cases, or 5 to 10 percent of patients, will require treatment in an intensive care unit or intermediate care.

Are Swiss hospitals equipped to cope with the increasing number of cases?

According to SSMI, there are 82 intensive care units (ICUs) throughout Switzerland and 850 available respirators (also known as ventilators or breathing machines), which are essential for treating the most critically ill Covid-19 patients. Additionally, the military has 200 respirators that it can make available to hospitals in case of need.


What role will the Swiss army play in fighting the epidemic?

Some 600 soldiers, mostly members of the military medical battalion, are deployed as of this Monday to help "civilian hospitals in terms of personnel and equipment”, said Thomas Süssli, head of the armed forces.

The measure will notably help support civilian hospitals, which may become overburdened if the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.

Aside from the respiratory and monitoring systems, the army will also provide ambulances, stretchers, tents, and medical containers.

“We can make them available where necessary”, the army’s spokesperson said.

READ MORE: Swiss army prepares to deploy to assist coronavirus fight 

What specific measures are hospitals taking to ensure they are ready?

Medical facilities throughout the country have postponed their non-urgent surgeries in order to free their personnel and machinery for the most pressing Covid-19 patients.

“We are busy preparing and setting up adequate infrastructure”, Jérôme Pugin, the head of the ICU at the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) told RTS television

Additionally, the canton of Geneva has requisitioned over the weekend the ICU of the private hospital of La Tour. This measure allows Geneva’s health authorities to have more places in intensive care to deal with the coronavirus epidemic.

"We are going to requisition all the necessary equipment, spaces and professionals”, State Council President Antonio Hodgers told RTS.


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