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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
There's some complex math in that train. Phoro by Fabrine Coffrini / AFP

Swiss-French more reluctant to get Covid shots

People in the French-speaking part of the country are more skeptical of coronavirus vaccines than their Swiss-German counterparts, a new survey shows.

Nearly 20 percent of French speakers said they were opposed to vaccination — primarily due to concerns over the vaccine’s efficacy and safety —  against 10 percent in the rest of the country, according to a new study carried out by Sotomo Research Institute.

In terms of the types of vaccine used, the population has a clear preference for messenger RNA technology, which is found in the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna vaccines currently on the market.

However, most respondents would like to be able to choose for themselves what kind of vaccine to use, which is currently not the case in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Why Switzerland doesn’t vaccinate seven days a week

War of the masks

Discount retailers Lidl and Aldi are trying to outdo each other with rock-bottom prices they charge for the FFP2 face masks, which are believed to offer more protection than conventional models.

Aldi said it would sell 50 pieces for 29.90 francs, and a pack of 10 for 7.99. That makes around 60 cents a piece.

However, Lidl immediately announced its own price reductions, offering masks for 59 cents, regardless of the packaging size.

By comparison, Migros, Coop and Denner sell FFP2 masks for 89 cents on average.

Lidl and Aldi said they intend to keep mask prices permanently low.


More punctual trains thanks to mathematics

It is not just a coincidence that trains in Switzerland run on time.

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) uses algorithms to improve punctuality of its trains.

To ensure that they are on schedule and arrive at their destination on time, SBB employs a mathematician who designed special algorithms to keep trains on track.

These algorithms “automatically combine and optimise the information of the schedule with that of the speed”, the mathematician, Thomas Graffagnino, said in SBB’s press release.

The project is quite complex and requires meticulous attention to detail.

“Two hours before departure, systems with optimised speed data automatically identify the main operating points where trains are running by following each other closely, at risk of getting in the way. This means that the schedule should be adhered to as much as possible. Then the system calculates the recommended speeds at which the train must travel in order to stay on schedule, if the departure was punctual”, Graffagnino said.

So getting the trains to run on time is much more than just a matter of luck and good Swiss watches.

“Onion socks” that keep your feet warm

If you think there’s nothing new under the sun, read this:

An entrepreneur in Flumserberg (SG) came up with a natural — though unusual — way to keep the feet warm in cold weather: she is manufacturing socks with an inside pocket, where onion slices can be  placed.

“Thanks to these socks, the onion slices lie directly on the surface of the feet and do not slip”, the Mo-Socks’ founder told the Swiss media.  

Onions, she noted, have anti-inflammatory, germ-killing, antibacterial, and pain-relieving properties and have been used for centuries to treat ailments such as sore throats, ear infections, insect bites — and now cold feet.

The pandemic might be a particularly opportune time to wear onion socks, as close social interactions are discouraged.

If you have any questions about life in Switzerland, ideas for articles or news tips for The Local, please get in touch with us at [email protected]

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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.