‘Officially a high-risk area’: How Geneva became Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspot

‘Officially a high-risk area’: How Geneva became Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspot
Geneva's coronavirus infections are skyrocketing. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
The western Swiss canton of Geneva is now one of Europe’s hotspots for new coronavirus infections. In one of Europe’s wealthiest regions with excellent health care, how did it get so bad?

On Monday, August 3rd, the number of new infections per 100,000 residents in Geneva crossed the 100 mark, reaching 103 per 100,000 for the past 14 days. 

The mark is well above the Swiss government’s ‘high risk’ classification of 60 per 100,000 – meaning that if Geneva was a separate country, residents would be forced to quarantine upon entering the rest of Switzerland. 

On Saturday August 1st, Belgium banned travel to and from Geneva, along with Valais and Vaud, as a result of the rising infections, although Valais and Vaud were removed from the list on Wednesday, August 5th.

READ: Everything you need to know about Switzerland's new quarantine requirement 

Nicola Low, epidemiologist at the University of Bern, told Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes “the infection figures refer to an entire country. On average, they are lower in Switzerland than in the countries on the quarantine list.”

“Geneva is currently a hotspot. If Geneva were a country, the FOPH would have to put it on the quarantine list.”

In one of Europe’s wealthiest regions with excellent health care – not to mention the headquarters of the World Health Organisation – how did it get so bad? 

‘Population density, airport and border with France’

As Low explained to 20 Minute “the canton lies on the border with France, is particularly densely populated in the city of Geneva and has an airport.”

Although Geneva only has the sixth largest population of any Swiss canton, after Basel City it is the second densest of all of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

While not everything is known about the virus and how it spreads, urban areas around the globe have been particularly susceptible to new infections. 

Although passenger traffic has declined significantly since the start of the crisis, Geneva remains Switzerland’s second-busiest airport – serving both the west of the country as well as parts of France

And although the border was closed at the height of the pandemic, it was left open to cross-border workers – many of whom work in Geneva. 

In 2019, an estimated 325,000 people crossed the border into Switzerland every day to work – 177,000 from France, 76,000 from Italy and 60,000 from Germany.

READ MORE: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus 'catastrophe' by protecting cross-border workers 

How is Geneva reacting? 

Geneva now has some of the strictest coronavirus measures seen anywhere in Switzerland. 

Masks are required in service, in shops and in public transport, while nightclubs have been closed since Friday. 

 

 


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  1. I’m really not sure about your comment ‘although the border was closed at the height of the pandemic, it was left open to cross-border workers – many of whom work in Geneva.’ This insinuates that the frontaliers (of which I am one) are responsible for the high numbers of covid 19 infection in Geneva. During the lockdown France was much more restricted in terms of movement and social contact than Switzerland, I could see pictures on social media of gatherings at the lake and in towns while we couldn’t move without an attestation and then only for particular reasons. Once the lockdown was lifted it was really strange to cross the border and see how relatively unchanged life has been. Speaking to people who work on the French side of the border they were really concerned about the borders reopening because of the knowledge that there were relatively many more cases of Covid on the Swiss side than on the French.
    My point is that suggesting that cross-border traffic has led to a rise in cases is unfair and probably unprovable. It would be better to look at the behaviours of many young people on the Swiss side of the border which has been, to say the least, irresponsible.

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