Warnings in Switzerland of a ‘second wave in summer’ as coronavirus R-Rate rises above 1

Switzerland's coronavirus reproduction or 'R-Rate' has again risen above 1, giving rise to concerns that the country is prematurely ending its lockdown.

Warnings in Switzerland of a 'second wave in summer' as coronavirus R-Rate rises above 1
People enjoy a view of Geneva's Jet d'Eau after the coronavirus lockdown. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

On June 17th, Professor Matthias Egger, the President of the Research Council and head of the Covid-19 Task Force, told SRF that Switzerland’s r-rate had again risen above 1. 

According to the announcement the official r-rate was at 1.1 in Switzerland. This rate is an average across the country and does not take into account regional variations. 

Egger said any further relaxations of the coronavirus lockdown measures should be avoided until the rate was again under control. 

Egger also warned that a second wave could hit in summer, rather than the oft-predicted autumn, if measures were not extended. 

Swiss authorities are set to meet on June 19th to discuss a further easing of measures, with Health Minister Alain Berset expected to relax the 1.5 metre distance requirement. 

Swiss parliament is also set to decide on whether or not to introduce a mask requirement on public transport and in shops. 

Losing the battle? 

The news contradicts official claims that Switzerland is winning the battle against the spread of the coronavirus. 

On May 27th, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga told the media “Switzerland is reborn”, saying “we now know it is possible to control the virus”.

“The number of new cases of infection has remained stable at a low level for a number of weeks now, as has the number of hospital admissions and deaths,” she said.

Why do authorities generally want to keep the R rate under 1? 

The aim is to keep the R0 under 1 so that the spread of Covid-19 remains under control. If the figure is at exactly 1, the total number of infections should remain at a consistent level.

At lower levels, the spread of the disease slows down considerably.

If the reproduction number is higher than one, then the number of cases can increase exponentially.

What is the R number anyway?

The basic reproduction number is one way of analysing a disease's ability to spread. It represents the average number of people that a person with coronavirus will pass the virus onto.

An R0 (R naught or R zero) of 1 means that each person infected with the virus is passing it on to one other person. Experts have said that the novel coronavirus, known officially as Sars-CoV-2, has a reproduction number of between 2 and 3, but there is debate and different estimates on this.

Amr Aswad, an evolutionary virologist based at Berlin's Free University told The Local Germany the R value is “a very important number”.

“It's one that's generated through modelling so different models might give you slightly different answers. But fundamentally, as we all know, we need to keep it below 1.”

However, there are other ways to measure how the disease is spreading, such as the number of infections.

“The R0 tells you a lot but it's not the complete picture and it should always be considered alongside the absolute number of infections,” said Aswad.


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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad