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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Switzerland makes it easier to get tested

Obtaining a coronavirus test in Switzerland will now be easier, with the country’s health authorities expanding the testing criteria.

Coronavirus: Switzerland makes it easier to get tested
(Illustration) A coronavirus test takes place in Malaysia. Photo: MOHD RASFAN / AFP

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has expanded the underlying criteria that must be met to obtain a test. 

Now, anyone with symptoms of acute respiratory illness should be tested, regardless of whether or not they also have a fever. 

In addition, people who have lost their sense of taste and smell or those with muscle pains should also be tested for the virus. 

Cantonal doctors have also been encouraged to test people without symptoms in hospitals, nursing homes and retirement facilities in order to prevent the spread of the virus in the facility. 

Expanding on the previous criteria 

Previously, people who wanted to be tested needed to be showing multiple symptoms of the virus while also having underlying conditions which placed them at a greater risk of the virus. 

People considered to be at a greater risk of complications from the virus are people over 65 years of age, people with high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, diseases and therapies that weaken the immune system and cancer.

READ: What we know about the victims of the coronavirus pandemic in Switzerland 

Although under the previous testing regime doctors could use their discretion in testing anyone who did not meet the criteria, this was relatively rare in some cantons due to a lack of testing capacity. 

The reason for the change in strategy is several fold. 

Switzerland has expanded its testing capacity in recent weeks, enabling for a greater percentage of the population to be tested. 

In addition, health experts have recognised the effectiveness of testing in breaking infection chains, even among people who may not have symptoms or who may not be in a risk group. 

As reported in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, despite many lauding the testing regimes of Germany and Austria, Switzerland has tested more people per capita than these countries. 

There has however been a difference in testing strategy, with Germany testing many more young people who were not in identified risk groups, when compared with Switzerland. 

How does Switzerland test for coronavirus?

As it stands, the vast majority of coronavirus tests are done at medical facilities in Switzerland.

In most cantons, members of the public who want to be tested and who fall into the required risk groups will need to call a cantonal hotline before being directed to a testing facility. 

While this will usually be a hospital or medical centre, drive-through testing has been rolled out in the canton of Lucerne as of March 24th. Those seeking a drive-through test will also need a referral. 

The central Swiss canton of Bern plans to follow suit in the coming days. 

Some cantons, such as Basel Country, have established mobile testing facilities that can visit nursing homes and other care facilities. 

How can I get tested?

Zurich was the first canton where all doctors were equipped to test for the virus, although medical facilities in all cantons can now do so. 

READ: What should I do if I have coronavirus symptoms in Switzerland? 

Cantonal authorities have warned against going directly hospitals in search of a test, with all hospital visits – along with visits to nursing homes and disability facilities – banned due to fears about spreading the virus. 

Instead, the FOPH has also set up a country-wide, multilingual hotline for questions about Covid-19 available in English, German, French and Italian. 

The number, which operates 24 hours a day, is +41 58 463 00 00. People experiencing symptoms should call this number immediately in order to determine whether a test is necessary – and where it should take place. 

Each canton also has its own hotline number.

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HEALTH

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”

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