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HEALTH

Indian Covid variant detected in Switzerland

A first case of the Covid-19 variant contributing to the exploding outbreak in India has been detected in Switzerland, the public health authority said Saturday.

geneva-airport
A man wearing a protective face mask rides his bicycle past the entrance of Geneva Airport amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on May 28, 2020, in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“The first case of the Indian variant of Covid-19 has been discovered in Switzerland,” Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health said in a tweet.

The virus variant was found in “a passenger who arrived in Switzerland after transiting through a European airport.”

The tweet from the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) in German, one of Switzerland’s official languages

The health authority corrected its initial announcement to make it clear that the passenger had transited in another European country before travelling to
Switzerland, rather than transiting in Switzerland itself.

The correction in French issued by the health authority on Twitter

“The person changed flights in a European country before flying on to Switzerland,” spokesman Daniel Dauwalder confirmed to AFP in an email, adding that the positive sample was collected in March in the northern canton of Solothurn.
  
The Federal Office of Public Health is meanwhile discussing whether to add India to its “red list” of high-risk countries, it said on Saturday.

Only a few days earlier, Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset said the government had decided not to put India on the red list as there were no direct flights between the country and Switzerland currently, according to Swiss website 20 Minuten.

People arriving from countries placed on Switzerland’s red list are required to quarantine for 10 days.

But Dauwalder pointed out that India already figured on a separate list held by the State Secretariat for Migration, which meant that for now, in most cases, only Swiss citizens and residents were permitted to enter Switzerland after a stay in India.

Swiss Interior and health Minister Alain Berset (R) speaks with Head of the infectious diseases department at the Federal Office of Public Health Virginie Masserey Spicher following a press conference on January 6, 2021, in Bern. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

READ ALSO: Germany restricts travel from high-risk India

Switzerland puts countries and regions on the red list once Covid-19 infection rates remain significantly higher than Switzerland’s for a period of 14 days.

Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has so far only listed the variant as a “variant of interest”, that is one that is “suspected” to be either more contagious than the original strain, cause more severe disease, or escape the protection offered by vaccines.

Manfred Weber, Leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, has called for all flights from India to the EU to be completely stopped, warning that the situation was getting out of control, German daily Bild reported.

Countries have been on high alert for the new “double mutant” variant, known as B.1.617, with several having already suspended flights from India.

More contagious variant?

There is concern that vaccines protect less effectively against this variant because of the two mutations in key areas of the virus’ spike protein.

Professor Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian that the arrival of the India variant was potentially worrying.

“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” he said. “It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants.”

However, other experts were less concerned.

“It is not possible to discern a reliable trend from the few observations we have, but we should observe it closely,” Richard Neher, Head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria Research Group at the University of Basel’s Centre of Molecular Life Sciences, according to Stern magazine.

Given the lack of knowledge about the many variants with noteworthy mutations, Neher said he did not believe that the Indian variant deserved any more concern than others.

Christian Drosten, a virologist at Berlin’s Charité teaching hospital, also did not see the new variant as a cause for concern, he said in an NDR podcast at the end of March.

READ ALSO: MAPS: Where in Switzerland are the highest and lowest Covid rates?

Since the start of the pandemic, in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 646,509 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and 9,955 people have died from the virus, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

As of April 21st, 9.8 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated against coronavirus with two doses of a vaccine.

The news of the variant’s arrival in Switzerland comes after Belgian authorities on Thursday said a group of 20 Indian nursing students who arrived from Paris had tested positive for the variant in the country.

India’s healthcare system is meanwhile buckling under a new wave of infections.

On Saturday, Covid-19 case numbers and deaths in the country set another grim new record.

The number of deaths across India climbed by 2,624 in the 24 hours to Saturday, up from Friday’s 2,263, as the country struggles to cope amid full intensive care units and a shortage of oxygen supplies.

A total of almost 190,000 people have died of coronavirus in India, according to official figures.

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HEALTH

How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Switzerland’s health infrastructure is consistently rated among the best in the world, but how does it compare with other countries?

How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

Whether in terms of politics, social system or economy, the Swiss often chart their own course, which fundamentally diverges from that of its European neighbours.

Healthcare is no exception.

The differences lie primarily in who finances the scheme — public versus private — and how the overall system functions.

Like much of the European Union, Switzerland has a universal health system, which means everyone in the country is covered by insurance and has access to medical care.

In most countries, the government typically has control, to a lesser or greater extent, over funding, health insurance, and health providers.

In France, for instance, most healthcare costs are covered by the state healthcare system, known as assurance maladie, and this is funded by taxes – healthcare costs account for about 13 percent of the average person’s gross salary.

In Germany, health costs are shared by employers and workers, with employees paying 7.5 percent of their salaries into a public health insurance fund, and companies matching that amount.

Italy’s national, system, called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or simply SSN, which is financed mainly though federal and regional taxes, automatically covers all residents. Medical care is largely free of charge at the point of service.

Public healthcare also exists in Austria, with certain portions of salaries being automatically deducted to fund the scheme. However, healthcare is free of charge for low-income people or those who who are disabled, studying, or retired.

Although no longer part of the EU, the UK health system is also based on state healthcare via the NHS. It is funded by taxes which account for about 4.5 percent of the average citizens’ gross income.

What about Switzerland?

The system here is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap — premiums are based on the canton of residence and age, costing 300 to 400 francs a month on average — but it is quite comprehensive; it includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

There are no employer-sponsored or state-run insurance programmes, and the government’s only role is to ensure that all insurance companies offer the same basic coverage to everyone and that they have the same pricing.

While companies can’t compete on prices or benefits offered by the basic compulsory insurance — which are defined by the Health Ministry — they can, and do, compete on supplemental polices which offer perks not included in the basic coverage.

READ MORE: What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

All policies have deductibles (also called co-pays) that can range from 300 to 2,500 francs a year.

After the deductible is reached, 90 percent of all medical costs will be covered by insurance, with 10 percent being paid by the patient; however, this co-pay is capped at 700 francs a year for adults and 350 francs for children under 18.

The government does subsidise healthcare for the low-income individuals and households – defined as those for whom insurance premiums exceed 10 percent of their income.

What percentage of a person’s income goes to health insurance premiums?

This depends on wages and premiums, for instance, whether a person chose the cheapest option with a high deductible or the expensive one with a 300-franc deductible.

Generally speaking, however, based on the average monthly income of just over 7,000 francs, about 6.5 percent is spent on premiums.

What happens if you don’t take out an health insurance policy?

Anyone who arrives in  Switzerland must get insured within three months. If you don’t, the government will choose one for you and send you the bill. If this happens you may end up with more expensive premiums than you might have gotten if you shopped around yourself.

If you are still delinquent on your payments, your healthcare will be restricted to emergencies only; any other non-urgent medical treatment will be denied, unless you pay for it out of pocket.

The pros and cons of the Swiss system

Let’s look at the ‘cons’ first. Basically, there is one: the cost.

Not only are insurance premiums high and steadily increasing, but, at 7,179 francs per capita, Switzerland has the third most expensive healthcare scheme in the world — behind only the United States ($12,318) and Germany ($7,383).

Unlike taxpayer-funded models, there is no price grading according to income, so people on a low income pay a high proportion of their income for healthcare than higher earners. 

However, the system is generally efficient, has an extensive network of doctors, as well as well-equipped hospitals and clinics.

Patients are free to choose their own doctor and usually have unlimited access to specialists.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to see a specialist doctor in Switzerland without a referral

Waiting lists for medical treatments are relatively short.

According to a survey by the Organisation  for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) on how long patients in various countries typically wait for an appointment with a specialist, the share of people in Switzerland waiting a month or more is 23 percent, compared to 36 percent in France, 52 percent in Sweden, and 61 percent in Norway.

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