From July 6th, 2020, Switzerland put in place an extensive quarantine requirement.
The rule required arrivals from so-called ‘high risk’ countries and regions to quarantine for ten days on arrival – even if they had tested negative for the virus.
However, despite Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) continuing to publicly support the requirement, a report has shown that the measure was largely ineffective in curtailing the spread of the virus and that authorities knew it.
While critics have hit out at the FOPH for supporting the measure, health authorities said the move had a necessary deterrent effect which is far more difficult to measure.
Minutes of an internal FOPH meeting obtained by Switzerland’s NZZ showed that the health authorities were aware that the measure – which required thousands of arrivals to Switzerland into quarantine since July – did little to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The meeting – which took place on September 17th between cantonal directors and representatives of the FOPH – showed that just 0.4 percent of those who were sent into quarantine tested positive for the virus.
The minutes instead state that the decision was largely “a political decision”.
The period under consideration in the meeting was from July 2nd until September 2nd.
‘A political decision’ which encroached on fundamental rights?
Critics of the quarantine requirement have spoken out against the government.
FDP Councillor Andrea Caroni labelled it “a political decision” which interfered with people’s basic rights.
“It’s scandalous”, Caroni told the NZZ.
“Obviously, the federal government has arbitrarily intervened in the basic rights of the inhabitants of this country,” he said.
Swiss think tank Avenir Suisse said it was a waste of resources.
Research director Jürg Müller said “these resources would have been better used for other preparatory work for the second wave”.
“A lot of suffering and damage was caused here in the summer for minimal benefit,” Müller told the NZZ.
‘A deterrent effect’
While not disputing that the decision was political in nature, the FOPH said the effectiveness of the measure could not be measured purely on the basis of how many people in quarantine fell sick – a claim which they told the NZZ is supported by the minutes of the meeting.
“The travel quarantine has the particular effect that people travel less and travel less to risk areas,” said the FOPH.
“The trips not taken cannot be measured”.
The FOPH said 0.87 percent of quarantined returnees tested positive for the virus, double that of the figure quoted in the NZZ.
The FOPH also said it would continue to support the existing quarantine measures’ deterrent effect.
“From the BAG's point of view, the measures have achieved their effect by reducing travel to risk countries in response to the quarantine obligation,” the FOPH said.
Switzerland changed its quarantine requirement on October 28th, reducing the number of ‘high risk’ countries from more than 60 to only four.