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COVID-19

Swiss pharma giant Roche launches test for coronavirus variants

Variants of coronavirus are now the dominant strains in Switzerland.

Roche headquarters in the Swiss canton of Basel City.
Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Swiss pharma giant Roche announced Tuesday the launch of a new test to help researchers find coronavirus variants which are feared to be more harmful or could undermine vaccines.

The new laboratory test is designed to detect mutations on the virus and monitor their prevalence and potential impact on infection, vaccines and therapies to combat Covid-19, the disease it causes, Roche said in a statement.

“Continuous surveillance is essential to public health,” Roche said.

The appearance of variants has caused much concern in recent months with those from the UK, Brazil and South Africa in particular widely believed to be more transmissible and possibly more dangerous.

Roche’s new test can be run on its Cobas 6800/8800 machines which are widely used in research laboratories and hospitals, it said.

Roche has been a pioneer in coronavirus testing since the virus first surfaced in China in late 2019 before spreading around the world.

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COVID-19

‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?

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