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

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 Tuesday
People working outdoors in cold weather should have a hot meal in a restaurant, petition says. Photo by AFP


Geneva is Switzerland’s hotspot of coronavirus mutations

New figures from the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) show that 80 percent of all Covid cases in the canton can be traced back to new variants. In this respect, Geneva is ahead of the rest of the country.

It is not clear why Geneva has recorded the highest number of mutations, but based on previous research, it may be because it lies on the border with France, is particularly densely populated, and has an international airport.

All these factors favour the mobility of the population and the circulation of the virus.

Nearly quarter million people in Switzerland signed a petition calling for the end of shutdown

More than 240,000 residents signed an online petition supporting the lifting of the current pandemic restrictions.

The online petition, launched by young politicians, is a reflection of the general dissatisfaction with the government's Covid-19 policy. Its slogan is: “That is enough, Federal Councilor Berset!”

It was submitted to the Federal Council on Monday.

A second petition, calling for “bistros for workers” has collected 50,000 signatures so far.

It wants restaurants to be used as canteens for workers, so that they can have their midday meal indoors during the shutdown, especially in freezing temperatures.

Promising news: Switzerland ‘could defeat Covid by the end of the year’

The pandemic can be overcome by the end of the year thanks to a significant number of vaccinations, says Basel infectious disease specialist Manuel Battegay.

“There should be significantly less outbreaks at the end of spring or in summer, when enough people have been vaccinated”, he said.

The outbreaks would be more contained and therefore more manageable, as more and more people get the coronavirus shot.

So far, more than half a million people have already received their first doses, and over 50,000 had their second shot.

Health experts estimate that at least 60 percent of the population must vaccinated to develop ‘herd’ immunity.

Photo by AFP


READ MORE: More than 500,000 people have now been vaccinated in Switzerland 

Switzerland’s housing market is immune to the pandemic

Housing prices continue to rise in Switzerland despite the health crisis.

As was the case before the coronavirus struck, the Lake Geneva area, along with Zurich,
northwestern Switzerland (Basel) and Bern, remained in 2020 the most expensive and sought-after regions.

These are also the areas where a great number of international residents live.

Prices for single-family homes in these regions rose on average to 1.3 million francs, or 3.7 percent more than during the previous year.

Long wait for elective surgery at Swiss hospitals

Even though medical facilities are no longer as saturated as they were during the second wave in the fall of 2020, the waiting time for non-urgent surgeries is long, especially in public hospitals.

Usually people in Switzerland don’t have to wait long for their elective surgeries, but because hospitals have to prioritise Covid patients, about 20,000 operations that require a bed in an intensive care unit have been postponed.

The backlog in public hospitals is now about 32 days, while in private clinics it is 19 days, according to Thomas Van Boeckel, member of the Covid-19 Science Task Force.

He said that wait in public health facilities is longer than in private sector because public hospitals accept more emergencies and critical cases, which put more pressure on the intensive care units.


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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.