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‘Scandalous’: Swiss government ‘knew coronavirus quarantine for travellers was ineffective’

Despite less than one percent of people in quarantine testing positive for Covid-19, Switzerland continued to support the measure, a new report has shown.

'Scandalous': Swiss government 'knew coronavirus quarantine for travellers was ineffective'
How effective was Switzerland's stay-at-home order? Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP

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. 

Ineffective? 

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. 

UPDATE: Who can enter Switzerland right now? 

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. 

READ: Are cross-border workers spreading coronavirus between Switzerland and France? 

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. 

 

 

 

Member comments

  1. The authorities have lost control over the situation. People here are not as disciplined as in countries like Taiwan.

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HEALTH

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”

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