Just before Christmas, a mutation of coronavirus first detected in Great Britain and South Africa led to flights being banned and new entry restrictions across Europe.
The variant was first detected in Switzerland on Christmas Eve among two passengers who were UK residents and had recently arrived in Switzerland.
On Sunday, January 3rd, Geneva health authorities said it was likely community transmission was already taking place in Switzerland.
Here’s what we know about the coronavirus mutation so far.
28 known cases in Switzerland
So far, 28 cases of the variant have been detected in Switzerland, although experts from the ETH suspect there will be many more cases detected soon.
This tells Virginie Masserey, the head of infection control at the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, told Watson that the variant had been detected in the cantons of Zurich, Geneva, St Gallen, Vaud, Bern and Valais.
Switzerland seeks to identify the variant in two ways.
Firstly, the FOPH works with the ETH and five university hospitals across Switzerland to identify returnees from the UK and South Africa and contact them to see if they have contracted the mutation.
“By isolating the returnees and thus stopping the transmission chain, as the university hospitals do, you can slow down the whole process of importation,” Tanja Stadler, a professor from the ETH Department of Biosystems Science, told Watson.
Secondly, the ETH analyses random positive coronavirus tests to see if the mutation can be detected.
“We want to find out to what extent the virus variants from South Africa and Great Britain circulate in Switzerland. To do this, we check randomly selected, positive coronavirus tests for mutations,” Stadler said.
“We sequence two percent of the tests. But just because we can't find anything, it doesn't mean it's not circulating.”
What do we know about the mutation?
The UK government estimates that the new mutation can be transmitted up to 70 percent easier than known variants of the virus.
Stadler believes the UK’s information to be accurate.
“In a situation in which the number of cases is stable without the new variant, the virus variant B.1.1.7 doubles. every week” she said.
There is however no evidence that the new variant makes people sicker or experience other kinds of symptoms to the existing variant.
I am sorry not to react to the many media requests, apologies. Very busy right in our lab bc of new variants, inbox is overflowing.
In a nutshell: Yes I am very concerned bc of #B117, yes we absolutely immediately need strong measures to slow down transmission #SARSCoV2 #COVID19
— Isabella Eckerle (@EckerleIsabella) January 5, 2021