EXPLAINED: Why is Geneva Switzerland’s coronavirus ‘hotspot’?
With the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Switzerland, the canton is three times more affected by the pandemic than the rest of the country. We explore why.
In the past two weeks, 99 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants have been confirmed in Geneva. This number exceeds the limit of 60 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, set by the Federal Council as criteria for putting other nations on its list of ‘high-risk’ countries.
“If Geneva were a country, it would have to be put it on the quarantine list, ” said Nicola Low, epidemiologist at the University of Bern.
What is the current situation in Geneva?
“We are concerned about what we are seeing here at the epidemiological level,” Geneva’s cantonal doctor Aglaé Tardin said in an interview with Tribune de Genève.
“Beyond the significant increase in cases, the profile of patients is also changing," she pointed out.
For instance, at the height of the pandemic between April and May, people of all ages contracted the virus. However, only the oldest ones were hospitalised or died.
But in June and July, Geneva health officials observed that the virus mainly affected the population between the ages of 20 and 49 — that is, people who go out at night and lead an active social life.
“What worries us today is that we are no longer able to protect populations at risk," Tardin said.
Why is Geneva so impacted by the pandemic?
According to Tardin, there are several reasons for the surge in numbers, including people returning from abroad after holidays.
But there are also geographical factors.
“Geneva borders the French region of Haute-Savoie and Ain, the departments particularly affected by the epidemic," she said.
Besides 125,000 frontier workers who commute daily to their jobs in the Lake Geneva area from the two affected French departments, party-goers also frequently cross the border as restrictions are less stringent in Geneva.
Since August 4th, there is a mask requirement in Haute-Savoie for groups of 10 or more gathering in outdoor public spaces.
Such a requirement doesn’t exist in Geneva.
“When positive cases are found in France, it is impossible to conduct contact tracing in Geneva, because we are not informed," said State Councilor Mauro Poggia.
Why isn’t Geneva’s population quarantined?
Even if the numbers indicate it is a high-risk region, the canton can’t be placed on the quarantine.
“Switzerland remains a country and the borders between the cantons do not exist," said Stefan Kuster, the head of the infectious diseases division at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
He added that it's the responsibility of the cantonal health authorities to manage the situation.
What preventive measures has Geneva implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19?
The Geneva Council of State unveiled several new restrictions on Monday.
The compulsory collection of personal data in restaurants and at private events will start from August 18th.
Nightclubs will remain closed until September 10th at the earliest.
Authorised public demonstrations that are currently limited to 1,000 people can continue to be organised, but only if health and safety measures are implemented and followed.
In addition, the sub-groups — clearly defined areas during an event — will only be able to accommodate 100 people instead of the current 300, to improve traceability.
And apart from the requirement to wear masks on public transport, as is mandatory in all of Switzerland, masks are also compulsory in shops and at the Geneva international airport.