Covid-19: Why contact tracing has become difficult in hard-hit Swiss regions

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected]
Covid-19: Why contact tracing has become difficult in hard-hit Swiss regions

Faced with a huge surge of coronavirus cases, contact tracers in Switzerland’s Covid-19 ‘hotspots’ Geneva, Vaud and Zurich can’t keep up with new infections.


Tracing teams are responsible for identifying people who may have come in contact with a contaminated person, and then warning them of exposure and telling them to go into quarantine.

According to Sunday’s SonntagsZeitung newspaper, people employed as tracers in the three cantons can no longer keep track of the daily infections in their regions. 

Although numbers have been rising in other parts of Switzerland as well — exceeding 1,500 on Friday — most cases are in Vaud, Geneva and Zurich. 

READ MORE: MAPS: Where are Switzerland’s emerging coronavirus hotspots?

In Zurich, for instance, tracers are so overwhelmed that the canton now leaves it up to infected people to warn their contacts themselves of a possible contamination. 

On average, only between 10 and 30 percent of those recently infected in Zurich were alerted of their exposure through contact tracing. This average rate has been 17 percent in Vaud and 15 percent in Geneva.

However, these figures are not sufficient to effectively stop virus transmissions.

"For the chains of contamination to be broken, this rate should be at least 80 percent", Bern epidemiologist Nicola Low told the newspaper.


Improvement is on the way

In Vaud, "the situation is tense, but our resources are adequate, and operating hours have been extended," said Catherine Cossy, the spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Action.

The canton’s tracing system employed 60 people until October 9th, but 20 more workers will start on Monday. And Vaud is trying to recruit even more tracers, Cossy said.

In Geneva, where the authorities speak of an "extremely tense" health situation, 110 people are assigned to the task.

According to the Department of Safety, Employment and Health. “the investigation team is working hard to continue to fulfill its mission".

Why is contact tracing so important?

Martin Ackermann, the head of Covid-19 Task Force, told NZZ newspaper that Switzerland can avoid the second wave “as long as contact tracing can keep pace with new infections”. 

Otherwise, if people who have been exposed to Covid-19 are not identified, notified, and quarantined, they will continue to spread the virus to others, further increasing the already high infection rate.


What will happen if the second wave does hit?

According to NZZ am Sonntag, which gained access to official government reports, the Federal Council has been working on regional containment scenarios to cope with an uncontrollable resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

This means that various cantons and regions could be confined, rather than the entire country, as was the case in the spring.

In the event of a proven second wave, the question of when and how such a regional closure could be implemented remains open at this time, the NZZ noted.

Since the end of a state of emergency in April, the power to impose confinements and other restrictions rests with the cantons, and no longer with the Federal Council.

Geneva laboratory starts evaluating 15-minute coronavirus tests

On October 9th a Geneva lab began investigating rapid tests from different manufacturers to decide which ones should be used in Switzerland. 

The call for quicker testing has come from businesses and tourism officials who argue that faster results will help reduce the duration of the quarantine or even abolish it altogether by requiring a negative test instead.

The EU has already approved the 15-minute tests in September. They should be commercially available in Europe by the end of October.




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