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How coronavirus has spread through German-speaking Switzerland

New figures show how coronavirus infections have spread through Switzerland’s German-speaking cantons.

How coronavirus has spread through German-speaking Switzerland
A coronavirus test at Basel's EuroAirport. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Despite escaping the worst of the pandemic in the early months, coronavirus has made a resurgence through Switzerland’s German-speaking cantons in recent weeks. 

New figures produced by health authorities in several cantons have shed light on how people in the canton have become infected with the virus. 

UPDATE: Families, not nightclubs, are the biggest sources of Covid-19 infections in Switzerland 

The information comes after the Swiss government was forced to backtrack on an announcement that most new infections across the country came from nightclubs, bars and restaurants, before releasing updated, accurate information which showed most people were infected by family members. 

Infections primarily take place at home

In Zurich, the source of new infections is much the same – with almost half coming in the home. 

In total, 48 percent of Zurich’s infections came in a person’s own household, followed by 15 percent at work, 11 percent from friends and family and eight percent in international travel. 

Five percent came from elderly homes and four percent in creches. Only four percent came from restaurants and two percent from bars or clubs – a significantly lower figure to that provided last week. 

The figures also showed that the majority of new infections were from unknown sources (65 percent) compared to those who knew where their infections came from (35 percent). 

The figures are similar in almost all of the cantons surveyed, with Basel's 38 percent infection rate from international travel a major outlier. 

 

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The Swiss government came under fire for releasing the inaccurate information. 

Christoph Ris from the Bar and Club Commission in Bern told Swiss media outlet Watson that the government had “dragged an entire industry through the mud” in suggesting that clubs were a major infection source. 

Nationwide figures

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said on July 31st that 42 percent of infections recorded in Switzerland over the past two weeks happened in nightclubs, and a further 27 percent in bars and restaurants.

Dozens of people in various regions of Switzerland have tested positive and hundreds are under preventive quarantine after contaminations that happened at the so-called 'superspreader' events in bars and nightclubs.

The most recent one occurred last week in Fribourg, where 240 people are quarantined after being exposed to infected individuals.

A coronavirus test at Basel's EuroAirport. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

However, on Sunday the FOPH retracted its previous statement, saying it had made a mistake in its calculations. 

Most coronavirus transmissions happened through contacts with infected family members rather than at clubs, discos, and other nightlife venues, the FOPH said. It also apologised “for the erroneous information” it published last week.

Les clubs et les restaurants ne sont pas les principales sources d'infection en juillet. L'OFSP présente ses excuses pour l'affichage erroné des lieux de contamination. Entre-temps, les chiffres corrects sont indiqués sur son site: https://t.co/jcirS2agtM

— BAG – OFSP – UFSP (@BAG_OFSP_UFSP) August 2, 2020

Of the 793 clinical reports that FOPH received from cantonal health offices between July 16th and August 1st, the highest number of infections, 216, occurred within the family.

 

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CANNABIS

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

UPDATE: What are Switzerland's rules for cannabis consumption?

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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