Today in Switzerland: A round-up of the latest news on Wednesday

Find out what's going on in Switzerland today with The Local's short round-up of the news.

Today in Switzerland: A round-up of the latest news on Wednesday
Elementary school children may ne required to wear masks. Photo by AFP

Mutated viruses gain ground in Switzerland

Geneva is the canton with the highest rate of infections with coronavirus mutations— between 60 and 70 percent of all contaminations are attributed to one of the new variants, according to Christian Althaus, epidemiologist at Bern University. 

For the canton of Zurich and the rest of Switzerland, the estimate is that between 30 and 40 percent all Covid cases are due to virus mutations, Althaus says.

In all cases, the UK variant is predominant among the viruses.

Health authorities predicted a few weeks ago that mutated variants would become primary corona viruses. 

Swiss government criticised for not ordering Russian and Chinese Covid vaccines

Health experts and politicians argue that federal authorities are wrong for ruling out coronavirus vaccines from Russia and China in favour of ones manufactured in the West — Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Curevac, and Novavax. 

“When I brought up the possibility of using the Russian vaccine last summer, I received a lot of negative comments”, said Martin Bäumle from the Liberal Green Party.

He added that an “ideological or geopolitical” aspect is probably influencing the government’s decision.

READ MORE: Why has Switzerland ordered over 30 million doses of coronavirus vaccine? 

Switzerland has no plans to purchase Russia's 'Sputnik' vaccine. Photo by AFP 

However, the government says that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines seem to be more effective against new variants of the virus. This will not necessarily be the case with Russian or Chinese vaccines, which use other technologies.

‘Corona Taxis’ are in service in Zurich

A group of Zurich’s taxi drivers have created a 'Corona Taxi' service for people who have to go for a Covid test but can’t drive themselves  or take public transport.

The drivers, who are separated from passengers by a Plexiglas panel, clean and disinfect their cars after each ride. The cost is lower than a normal price for the distance travelled.

‘Corona Taxi’ can be summoned by calling 044.444-4444

Elementary school students may soon be forced to wear face masks

The Swiss Pediatric Society updated its recommendations this week and is now advocating masks for children in elementary-level classes, a proposal that’s supported by the teachers' union.

The masks should be compulsory in primary schools in cantons with high infection rates, the pediatric society said. For now, only secondary school students are required to wear masks in Switzerland.

In the meantime, five cantons — Zug, Basel-Land, Aargau, Valais and Uri  are testing systematically for coronavirus infections in schools.

What you might have missed?

Since Monday, people in Switzerland can reduce their quarantine from 10 to seven days if they have a negative test results. Here's how.


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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.