At the beginning of the week, nearly 300 infections with new variants of coronavirus have been detected in Switzerland, and health officials say this number is expected to grow significantly in the coming days and weeks.
Clusters of the new variants — mostly originating in the UK, but also in South Africa — were recently discovered in eight locations throughout Switzerland, according to a report by SRF public broadcaster.
Vaud health minister Rebecca Ruiz said the Lausanne hockey team has become a hotspot for the coronavirus mutation detected first in the UK. Team members had to go into quarantine on January 7th, after 10 players tested positive.
Most of the 39 mutation cases identified in the canton of Vaud were spread by the members of the hockey team, Ruiz said.
At the end of last week, the canton of Basel-Country registered an infection from a mutated virus in a primary school. One student and several family members tested positive and the class which the contaminated student attended was placed in quarantine.
A British tourist in Wengen was the first to ‘import’ the virus to the ski resort.
The number of cases rose rapidly from around 10 in mid-December to 90 last week. The canton of Bern responded to the outbreak with mass tests. So far, the virus has been detected seven times in around 1,000 tests, but testing is ongoing and may uncover other cases.
Also in Wengen, 90 troops were quarantined on Tuesday after one soldier tested positive for the British variant, the Defense Department reported.
The outbreak in Wengen also had consequences elsewhere in the canton: two school children from Bremgarten tested positive for the mutated virus after returning from their ski holidays in Wengen. Now all people who were in contact with the children are in quarantine – 120 students from the primary school and kindergarten. The family of the two children and all their contacts are quarantined as well.
The British mutation was detected in a secondary school student in Frauenfeld on Friday. As a result, lessons for all third-level students were switched to online teaching. All pupils are also in quarantine.
St. Moritz (GR)
Two renowned St. Moritz hotels — Badrutt's Palace and the Grand Hotel Kempinski — are under quarantine after about a dozen cases of South African mutations had been detected.
Authorities have mandated facemasks and mass, community-wide tests.
The Ticino region reported two mutation outbreaks.
A UK variant, was found in a retirement home in Balerna. Then, cases were detected in a middle schol. The canton reacted promptly and ordered quarantine for 500 students and 70 teachers.
Two primary school students in Cham have contracted a mutated variant. The school didn’t release any information about the infected pupils to protect their privacy, but 38 children, along with eight teachers, are in quarantine.
Because tests are only carried out if there is evidence or suspicion of contaminations, the number of cases is most likely underestimated, Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said.
It added that the real number of variant infections among Switzerland’s population and how quickly they spread is not known.
Moreover, it takes time to identify these variants among the positive tests, Virginie Masserey, head of FOPH’s infection control unit, said at a press conference on Tuesday.
But experts estimate that around 10 percent of the positive tests in Switzerland are associated with one or the other variant of the virus, which shows their highly contagious nature.
The UK strain, believed to be present in Switzerland since mid-December, is thought to have first appeared in the London and Kent areas of the south-eastern England in September 2020. It is reported to be up to 70 percent more contagious than other variants.
The South African mutation has emerged independently of the British variant and the two strains share some common traits, according to health officials.
But experts believe that even though the mutated virus may spread faster, it doesn’t appear more likely to cause severe illness or death and will respond well to the Covid vaccine.
With infection rates now falling in the UK, it shows that the spread of the new variant can also be stemmed by the imposing restrictions and lockdowns, as has been the case with previous variants of Covid-19.