‘Exhausted’ Swiss doctors reel as second virus wave hits

No more room. Patients with severe Covid-19 infections fill all the 10 enclosed beds in the intensive care unit at this small Swiss hospital, but more keep coming.

'Exhausted' Swiss doctors reel as second virus wave hits
ICUs in Swiss hospitals are reaching their limits. Photo by AFP

 “This morning, I was asked to take one more patient… so I had to transfer the most stable patient I had to another hospital to make room,” Herve Zender, the chief physician at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds's ICU, told AFP.

The sudden reorganisation at the hospital in western Switzerland has in recent days become routine.

“This is something we are doing basically every day at the moment,” he said. “The unit is constantly full. We have no back-up.”

For weeks now, the novel coronavirus has been mercilessly lashing Switzerland, and in particular its French-speaking region, where hospitals are rapidly becoming overwhelmed.

Switzerland emerged relatively unscathed from the first wave of Covid-19 infections in the spring, but as a second wave engulfs Europe, health workers here agree the situation in the wealthy Alpine nation this time is far more worrying. 

'Far more patients' 

“There are far more patients” this time around, Zender said.

Head nurse Brigitte Hostettler agreed.

“One could say the first wave was bearable. We managed to handle everything and we did not see a massive influx,” she told AFP.

“But now, this is just becoming very difficult to manage.”

Switzerland, a country of 8.5 million people, is currently seeing one of Europe's greatest spikes in case numbers compared to population size.

In recent days its daily case count has repeatedly surpassed 10,000, and now counts over 200,000 cases and more than 2,330 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

And hospitalisations are surging.

“There are too many patients. Too many hospitalised patients. It is complicated,” Hostettler said.

“There are also far more staff members who have tested positive.”

As for who the patients are, she said they were of “all ages”.

“A lot of them are elderly, between 70 and 80 or older, but there are also younger people, who are 45, 35.”

The Swiss canton of Neuchatel, where the La-Chaux-de-Fonds hospital is located, currently counts 314 positive tests per 10,000 inhabitants.

That is nearly twice the infection rate in Switzerland overall, where there are currently 174 infections per 10,000 people, according to the Neuchatel hospital network (RHNe).

In a bid to face the surge in infections, the network has boosted its bed and staffing capacity to allow it to care for up to 250 hospitalised Covid-19 patients at once.

On Wednesday, 120 patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 and 19 suspected cases were hospitalised across the canton of some 33,000 inhabitants, RHNe said.

The La-Chaux-de-Fonds hospital has meanwhile been forced to halt all surgical activities, postponing many interventions and sending the most urgent cases to other hospitals.

'Mentally and physically exhausted' 

The health workers here say they understand that the population is “fed up” with the increasingly strict measures aimed to rein in the pandemic.

But they say most people do not appear to realise just how quickly and how dangerously the situation in the hospitals has devolved.

Some also criticise the Swiss government for not taking more decisive

Bern last week announced a slew of measures, including more stringent requirements on wearing face masks and crowd sizes, but stopped short of returning the entire country to the partial confinement of the spring.

A number of cantons, including Neuchatel, have meanwhile gone the extra mile and ordered restaurants, bars and most shops shuttered.

Health care workers say they hope that will be enough to slow the surge.

“Everyone is tired,” said Jeremy Bouhelier, head nurse in the ICU.

“Just mentally and physically exhausted.” 

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Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival cancels concerts of unvaccinated British artists

Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival announced on Friday that it was forced to drop the acts of four UK-based artists from its summer program because they haven’t been fully vaccinated yet.

Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival cancels concerts of unvaccinated British artists
British singer-songwriter Rag'n'Bone Man was dropped from Montreux Jazx Festival. Photo: GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP

The move was done in order to comply with current Covid-19 entry rules into Switzerland, which state that from June 26th, travellers from outside the Schengen zone, including Brits, will only be allowed to enter Switzerland if they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus. 

READ ALSO: Switzerland relaxes travel rules for vaccinated Americans and Brits: What you need to know

British soul singer Rag’n’Bone Man who was one of the headliners for the 2021 edition of the festival, which starts on July 2nd, will now no longer be able to attend due to not being fully vaccinated.

Other unvaccinated acts based in the UK who were also dropped because of the new entry rules include Inhaler, Alfa Mist and the Yussef Dayes Trio.

The artists have already been replaced with other performers from around Europe including Italian singer Zucchero, Woodkid, Dutch songwriter Benny Sings and Danish jazz trio Athletic Progression.

In a statement on June 25th, festival organisers said they were trying to make sure that the concerts of the other UK artists would continue to go ahead, however it is tricky because of fears over the Delta strain of the Covid virus, which has now become dominant in Britain.

“Whether or not these artists can come depends on their vaccination status and that of their touring entourage, as well as their ability to quarantine at the start of their European tour or before their concert at Montreux,” they said.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is one of just a small handful of big music festivals in Switzerland that will still go ahead this summer. Other music events such as St Gallen Open-Air, Paléo and Bern’s Gurten festival have been cancelled for the second year in a row, due to ongoing fears over the Covid-19 virus.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: What rules do European countries have for travellers from the UK?