Geneva’s health authorities announced on Sunday that five cases of the new UK strain had been found in the canton.
“It is very likely that there is community circulation of this strain in our canton”, Geneva’s Health Department (DSES) said in a press release.
“In order to contain the transmission of this new strain within the population, the Geneva health authorities are intensifying and extending the quarantine measures. They set up proactive screening of patients with this new variant”, DSES added.
Several other cases of the UK variant were also found at the end of December in Zurich, Graubünden, Valais, and Bern, and one case of the South African strain was detected in Ticino, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
The new strain is believed to have first appeared in the London and Kent areas of the UK in September 2020, and is reported to be up to 70 percent more contagious than other strains.
Blaise Genton, chief medical officer of the tropical diseases department at University Centre of General Medicine and Public Health (Unisanté) in Lausanne said the new strain “is worrying”.
“The coronavirus has fortunately mutated little since the start of the pandemic. What is very important to know is whether this mutation leads to more severe ailments or to more deaths, which we don’t yet know.”
The question now is whether the variant will respond well to the Covid vaccine.
“Currently, there is nothing to suggest that the mutations that occur will resist the effectiveness of the vaccine”, Claire-Anne Siegrist, head of the vaccine unit at Geneva’s university hospitals (HUG) said.
On December 21st, Switzerland banned all travel from Great Britain and South Africa, but not before 60 flights from the UK — bringing an estimated 10,000 tourists, mostly skiers heading to Verbier — landed at the Geneva airport.
The Federal Council had swiftly introduced a general entry ban for all arrivals from the UK and South Africa. It also ordered everyone from the two countries to quarantine for 10 days.
However, an estimated 350 British tourists have avoided that quarantine by fleeing overnight, with some reported to have travelled into France.