‘A new wave’: Concern in Switzerland as Covid numbers continue to climb

This week has not been good in terms of coronavirus infections in Switzerland. But there’s positive news as well: the number of hospitalisations and deaths has not gone up. Here is an overview of the current situation.

'A new wave': Concern in Switzerland as Covid numbers continue to climb
There are fewer Covid patients in Swiss hospitals. Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP

When analysing statistics, keep in mind that national figures include Liechtenstein, so the numbers for Switzerland alone are slightly lower.

The number of reported Covid cases has increased significantly since March 16th: from 1,438 at the beginning of the week to 1,858 on  Wednesday and 1,750 on Thursday.

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has not said whether this spike is related to the increased number of tests performed in Switzerland since the free screening scheme was introduced on March 15th.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How will Switzerland’s free coronavirus ‘self-testing’ scheme work?

What is known, however, is that mutated viruses, particularly the UK variant, are responsible for 80 percent of all infections detected in Switzerland at the present moment.

Most cases, as this colour-coded map shows, are in Geneva and Vaud (darkest colour), followed by Valais Ticino, and Uri. Glarus and Appenzell Innerhoden have registered fewest cases.


The R-rate now stands at 1.14. If the number is greater than 1, the virus is spreading more intensely and infecting more people.

On the map below, red areas indicate where the R-rate exceeds 1.


READ MORE: Will Switzerland end its shutdown on Monday?

All these figures mean that the third wave of the pandemic may be near, health experts warn.

“When the number of cases increases so rapidly, we can speak of a new wave”, said Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva.

On the positive side, the number of Covid patients in the intensive care units has not increased. At 5,88 cases for 100,000 inhabitants, the rate is the lowest since September 2020.

The same applies to coronavirus-related deaths: 1,34 cases/100,000 — down from  88,74 /100,000 in September.

Health officials say the drop in hospitalisations and deaths among seniors is due to vaccinations.

So far, just over 1,1 million doses have been administered throughout Switzerland, with nearly 395,000 people having received both shots.

This graph shows how the number of administered vaccines has grown since the inoculation programme was launched in Switzerland at the end of December 2020.

However, despite having ordered 35 million vaccines from four different manufacturers, Switzerland lags behind many nations in Europe when it comes to the number of vaccines administered per 100,000 residents.

European statistics platform Statista shows that with 10.96 inoculations per 100,000, Switzerland is in the 15th place, below the UK (35.9),  Scandinavian countries, some states in Eastern Europe, as well as Spain, Cyprus, Greece, and Malta.

But Switzerland is ahead of its neighbours Austria, France, Italy, and Germany. 

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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.