Coronavirus epidemic in Switzerland: What lies ahead?

Coronavirus epidemic in Switzerland: What lies ahead?
Swiss hospitals and ICUs are not overcrowded, authorities say. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
As March is drawing to a close, Swiss health authorities give an overview, and some predictions, about the pandemic’s evolution.

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed to date is nearly 15,000, though the real figure is likely higher. 

So far, 300 people have died in Switzerland

“That is an enormous number for Switzerland”, said Daniel Koch, head of the communicable diseases division of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). 

Those are grim statistics for sure, but according to the site Worldometre which is keeping a count of coronavirus cases around the world some 98 percent of confirmed cases in Switzerland are classed as “mild” with 2 percent serious or critical.

It may be difficult to find any positive news amid the pandemic, but not all is dire.

“The worst forecasts we made a few weeks ago did not materialise,” Koch said.

These ‘worst-case scenarios’ predicted by Swiss health authorities at the beginning of the pandemic included overcrowded hospitals and insufficient quantity of life-saving equipment.

READ MORE: Coronavirus fake news watch: No, Swiss hospitals are not overrun 

Currently, 280 people are receiving life support via respirators in Swiss hospitals, but intensive care units (ICU) across the country are not overrun or even fully occupied.

According to Swiss Association of Intensive Care (SSMI), Swiss medical centres have 850 available respirators. The military also has 200 of these machines that it can make available to hospitals in case of need, so there is no shortage of either ICU beds or machines.

READ MORE: EXPLAINER: Can Switzerland handle the coronavirus pandemic?

If FOPH’s predictions are correct, there may be even more good news on the horizon.

Last week Koch said that the number of coronavirus cases will continue to climb but “the curve could flatten out” starting this week or next, as long as everyone sticks to the measures set out by the Federal Council on March 16th.

The current Covid-19 patients are believed to have been infected before these measures were implemented. It takes time for symptoms to show and then time for patients' conditions to deteriorate before they need hospital treatment.

The restrictions, in effect until April 19th, include the ban on all public and private events that gather more than five people.

All shops, markets, restaurants, bars, entertainment and leisure establishments such as museums, libraries, cinemas, concert halls, theatres, sports centres, swimming pools and ski areas are closed.

Schools are also closed until at least April 4th and most border crossing have been shuttered

Everyone is urged to stay indoors, practice ‘social distancing' and follow FOPH's hygiene recommendations such as frequent hand washing and coughing into the crook of the elbow.

The Swiss government has been monitoring mobile phone data to see whether the population is complying with coronavirus restrictions, and reported that most people are disciplined and responsible in following the rules.

The optimistic predictions are based on what happened in China, where the coronavirus originated.

The first quarantine measures were introduced in Wuhan on January 20th, before the city completely closed on January 23th, with 15 others shuttered the following day.

Official surveys indicate that the number of people showing symptoms began to decrease six days after the first measures were implemented, and that it took several more days for this decline to be reflected in the official statistics.

But despite a positive outlook, Koch urges caution. “It is still a bit early for a conclusion,” he said.

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