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

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 Monday
Fines are handed out for non-compliance with Covid rules. Photo by AFP

Hundreds of fines handed out for breaking Covid-19 rules

In the past two weeks, ever since the government started to impose penalties for failure to comply with coronavirus measures, cantons have issued hundreds of fines for coronavirus-related offences on their territories.

For example, the police in the canton of Zurich imposed around 100 fines in the first week of February alone. Vaud handed out 106 fines, while in Geneva, Valais and Thurgau, between 30 and 40 fines were issued in the first days of February.

The Local will publish an article today about this issue.

Swiss government urged to end shutdown

The Federal Council is under increasing pressure to relax the restrictions taken to combat the spread of the coronavirus. 

Health Ministers of various cantons are urging authorities to reopen restaurants and non-essential businesses, as the Covid infection rate in Switzerland is declining.

After saying previously that the restrictions likely won’t be lifted on February 28th, as originally planned, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset indicated that the Federal Council hadn’t ruled out a relaxation of at least some of the existing measures.

“The Federal Council understands the frustration in the population. The Federal Council would also like to see easing, that's clear,” he said.

The government will draw up the measures this week, after consulting with the cantons.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Is a lockdown extension inevitable in Switzerland?


Switzerland lags behind in health-related digitisation

The coronavirus crisis has brought to light Switzerland's delay in digitising the health sector.

Various gaps exist in this area, experts say. Among them are the faxes that some doctors and hospitals still used at the start of the pandemic to transmit data.

“There are also endless Excel files, confusing websites, problems registering people who want to be vaccinated, or even the coordination of available beds in the country”, said Andreas Wicht, an expert in medical technology

Medical informatics experts are calling the situation “frightening”, urging the authorities to upgrade the system, especially as “there are so many technology providers in Switzerland, and the know-how is here”.

Shutdown is ‘toxic’ to mental health, new Swiss study shows

Almost one in five people in Switzerland suffer from severe depression as a result of the pandemic. The percentage of people reporting stress spikes was 11 percent during the containment in April, and rose to nearly 20 percent percent during the second wave in November.

The “Swiss Corona Stress Study” reveals that the phenomenon is more marked among young people. Some 29 percent of 14-24 year olds and 21 percent of 25-34 year olds report severe depressive symptoms. By contrast, among those over 65, only 6 percent show symptoms of depression.

Along the linguistic regions, 22 percent of French speakers report severe depressive symptoms, compared with 16.9 percent of Swiss-Germans, and 16.1 percent of Ticino residents.

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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.