Covid-19: What is the situation in Swiss hospitals right now?

Throughout the second coronavirus wave, many medical facilities in Switzerland have reached their saturation points. But what is the latest on the country's hospitals?

Covid-19: What is the situation in Swiss hospitals right now?
Like other Swiss hospitals, HUG is at its limit. Photo by AFP

Intensive care units (ICUs), where the most serious coronavirus cases are treated, have fewer beds than other hospital services, so they can become overcrowded quickly.

At the end of October and beginning of November, ICUs in the French-speaking cantons, which were most affected by the pandemic, reached their limits and, in some cases, exceeded their capacities.

Several Covid-19 patients were even transferred to hospitals in Bern and Zurich, as Swiss-German regions did not have as many infections and their medical centres had free beds.

Now, however, the trend of contaminations has shifted, with Swiss-German cantons, along with Ticino, becoming the new coronavirus hotspots. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are Covid-19 infections on the rise again in Switzerland?

While hospitalisations across the country still remain high, latest figures from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) show that the situation is slightly better now than in previous weeks.

For instance, on November 2nd, the rate was 3.39 hospitalisations per 100,000 inhabitants, while on December 12th the rate dipped below 1, at 0.94 cases per 100,000.

However, the number of patients remains high and health authorities are expecting a new surge after the Christmas season.

Even though new rules regarding the number of people allowed to gather together have been set — up to five from two households before and after the holidays, and up to 10 from December 24th to 26th and on December 31st — health officials are worried that bigger groups will congregate, causing another spike in the number of infections.

In fact, heads of all five university hospitals in Switzerland — in Basel, Bern, Zurich, Lausanne and Geneva— sent a letter to Health Minister Alain Berset to express “their great concern about the current situation”, Swiss media reported.

“The pressure on hospitals remains high”, said the letter from the five hospitals.

“We will not be able to handle more cases. With the fatigue of our employees, we risk a collapse of the hospital system”, said Philippe Eckert, director of Vaud’s university hospital (CHUV), where 240 beds are occupied by patients with Covid-related illnesses.

At Geneva’s hospital (HUG), there are 188 patients with ‘active’ coronavirus and 269 with post-Covid complications. 

Additionally, 10 to 20 people infected with Covid are admitted to HUG each day, said Sandra Merkli HUG’s director of care services.

Medical chefs are urging the government to declare ‘a state of emergency’ to maintain the healthcare system, which would mean the shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the same way as in the spring.

They said this would be the only way to prevent the ‘third wave’ from hitting Switzerland in January and causing hospitals to exceed their capacities.

 “We are walking a tightrope. If we make more capacity available to Covid patients, other patients will suffer. We cannot favour just one disease ”, according to Huldrych Günthard, professor of infectious diseases at the University Hospital Zurich. 

The federal government said last week it has no plans for the moment to mandate a national shutdown, but would introduce stricter measures if the number of cases goes up during Christmas.




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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?