EXPLAINED: How effective have Switzerland's coronavirus lockdown measures been?

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EXPLAINED: How effective have Switzerland's coronavirus lockdown measures been?
A commuter in a face mask in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

New data shows how effective the lockdown measures were against the spread of the coronavirus in Switzerland.


On February 28th, 2020, the Swiss government put in place a ban on events with more than 1,000 people. 

It was the first measure adopted by the country in the battle against the coronavirus, with several more stringent measures adopted in the subsequent weeks. 

New research has shown how effective the lockdown has been in curbing the spread of the virus in Switzerland. 

The study, completed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), shows that in some parts of Switzerland the spread of the virus dropped by up to 92 percent as a result of the measures. 


R0 rather than antibodies

Unlike other similar studies, the research focused on the virus’ R0 or basic reproductive number, rather than on detecting antibodies in the general populace. 

The R0 is an epidemiological figure which shows how many people a person with coronavirus goes on to infect in the population. 

READ: How coronavirus will change the way we move around Swiss cities

The goal of health authorities is to get the rate below 1. 

The reproduction factor shows the trend of new infections – if the value is below 1, the number of new infections decreases; if it is equal to 1, the number remains roughly the same. If it exceeds 1, exponential growth is possible in the long run – and that's what everyone wants to avoid.

‘An 86 percent fall across the country’

The R0 rate fell from 2.8 when the outbreak first started, to 0.4 in April - a decrease of 86 percent across the country. 

Photo: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne

The impact of the measures differed from canton to canton. In Jura, there was a 53 percent decrease in the rate, while in Basel City there was a 92 percent decrease. 

The study also took into account smartphone data to see how the measures restricted people’s mobility. According to the findings “trips for work, shopping and recreational activities fell between 50% and 75% on a national level and between 30% and 80% on a cantonal level.”

The authors noted a “strong correlation” between reductions in mobility and reductions in transmission and praised the Swiss population for taking the threat seriously. 


“R0 was already close to 1 when the government banned groupings of more than five people and asked that everyone stay at home,” said Joseph Lemaitre, a PhD student at EPFL’s Laboratory of Ecohydrology and the study’s lead author.

“Of course, that may be partly due to the fact that people saw those requirements coming and changed their behaviour accordingly – by adopting social distancing measures, for example – even before the official announcement, as suggested by data on internet searches.”

Four percent of the population contracted the virus

A total of 3.9 percent of the population is estimated to have been infected, although the rate varies significantly from canton to canton. 

Bern’s rate of infection was the lowest in the study, with only 1.9 percent infected with the virus. 

Conversely, 16 percent of the population in Ticino have been infected. Ticino, which borders hard-hit northern Italy, has the highest per capita death rate from the virus of any Swiss canton. 

Geneva also showed a high rate of infection, with 11 percent of people in the western canton infected. 

Photo: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne 

Lessons to be learned 

The study comes at an important time, with some on the fringes of Swiss politics arguing that the country overacted by putting in place the relatively stringent lockdown measures. 

Jacques Fellay, co-author of the study, said that the findings have lessons for governments in fighting future pandemics or a second wave of the coronavirus. 

READ: What are the latest predictions in Switzerland about a second wave of Covid-19? 

“It’s essential for policymakers to be able to quantify how effective these measures are in slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, so that they can make the right decisions for both this pandemic and future ones,” Fellay said in a statement.


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