For members


EXPLAINED: Why the third wave of Covid-19 in Switzerland hasn’t been as bad as previous ones?

The first two coronavirus waves in Switzerland — in the spring and fall of 2020 — were marked by confinement, shutdowns, and a slew of restrictions imposed amid increasing infections, hospitalisations and deaths. But the current phase is less dramatic. Why is this?

EXPLAINED: Why the third wave of Covid-19 in Switzerland hasn't been as bad as previous ones?
The third wave is milder due to vaccinations. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland has been experiencing the third wave of the pandemic since the beginning of March, when the number of reported Covid infections went up by nearly 5 percent, after declining steadily the second half of February.

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

Also, the R-rate, which indicates how fast the virus is spreading, jumped from below 1, where epidemiologists want it to be, to 1.04 currently. This means the daily number of cases is climbing.

So why isn’t this wave as bad as the previous two?

This time things are different: contaminations are increasing at a slower pace than in the first and second waves, when Switzerland experienced exponential growth.

Also, the number of deaths is dropping steadily, unlike during the previous waves, and intensive care units in Swiss hospitals are not full.

“The health situation is now relatively stable in our country”, Swiss President Guy Parmelin said this week. “There are good reasons for optimism”. 

Virginie Masserey, head of the infection control section at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), also noted that “the epidemiological situation is reassuring”.

Why is the situation improving?

Vaccination plays a major role in this trend reversal, health experts say.

More than 10 percent of the Swiss population has received two doses of the vaccine to date.

This is not enough to develop herd immunity — at least 60 percent have to be inoculated to achieve that — but it is already showing positive effects among older people, who were the first to receive their shots.

And as the vaccination campaign is accelerating across the country and with more cantons starting to inoculate younger groups, infection rates are expected to drop even further.

READ MORE: Inside Switzerland’s two new, large-scale Covid-19 vaccination centres

Apart from vaccinations, more widespread testing, which began in mid-March, also helps control the spread of the virus, Masserey said.

Are we out of the woods or do we still need to be concerned?

Nobody knows for sure.

Some experts warn that Switzerland is headed for 10,000 infections a day after winding back some of its Covid measures in April.

“With the easing, Switzerland is taking a risk”, said  Martin Ackermann, chairman of Switzerland’s Covid-19 Task Force.

READ MORE: Experts warn Switzerland headed for ‘10,000 infections a day’ after winding back Covid measures

However, this ‘worst-case’ scenario could happen only if Switzerland slows down its vaccination campaign.

“If we do not vaccinate enough, the virus will continue to circulate, and the greater the circulation, the greater the risk of the appearance of new variants”, said Blaise Genton, head of the division of infectious diseases at Vaud’s university hospital (CHUV).

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For members


OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.