ANALYSIS: Why are Switzerland’s coronavirus numbers falling so sharply?
Even though some Swiss experts have forecast a drastic increase in the number of coronavirus cases, the opposite trend is happening. This is why.
In April, Covid-19 Task Force predicted that once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, Switzerland would be hit by 10,000 infections a day.
Since then, some measures have been relaxed on April 19th, including the re-opening of outdoor restaurants and fitness centres — but the prediction has not come true, at least at this point.
In fact, numbers are declining – from well over 2,000 a day two weeks ago to well under 2,000 currently. Also, the R-rate, which indicates how quickly the virus spreads through the population, fell below 1, which is where authorities want it to be.
Likewise, Covid-related hospitalisations and deaths have dropped as well, prompting Patrick Mathys, head of the crisis unit at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) to announce that Switzerland has “good reasons to be cautiously optimistic”.
When questioned about the prediction, Task Force’s vice-chairman Urs Karrer “was somewhat embarrassed”, according to Tribune de Genève.
He added that the models the experts used to make the prediction “will be re-examined”.
Why has Switzerland’s epidemiological situation improved?
Karrer said this is due to the “good behaviour of the population”, as well as “seasonality” — with warmer weather, people spend more time outdoors, where chances of being infected are greatly reduced.
However, the most important reason why the numbers are steadily declining are vaccinations.
Even though Switzerland has administered just 30 shots per 100 people — less than many other European countries — the campaign has already had a positive effect on the number of hospitalisations and deaths.
Importantly, 11 percent of Switzerland's population has been fully vaccinated (having received two doses), reflecting the government's focus on ensuring the most vulnerable were fully vaccinated, rather than getting shots to as many people as possible.
As a result, Switzerland has the fourth highest percentage of fully vaccinated people when compared to EU and EFTA countries, behind only Denmark, Spain and Italy.
The prospects are even better since younger age groups have been included in the vaccination campaign in various cantons, and health authorities promised to speed up the pace with the arrival of 8 million more doses prior to summer.
But what matters it is not just the inoculation process, but also the kind of vaccines Switzerland uses: Moderna and Pfizer /Biontech, both of which are based on the so-called mRNA technology, are effective against new variants, according to Steve Pascolo, immunologist at the University Hospital Zurich.
He compared Switzerland’s situation to that of Israel, “a country of the same size as ours, which has used this type of vaccines and has been experiencing a return to normality for the past month, while in some parts of the world, including India and Turkey, which have used other vaccines, Covid variants are wreaking havoc”.
Another reason for the decline in cases is widespread testing
Since the middle of March, coronavirus tests have been made free in almost every case, while free ‘self tests’ have been available at Swiss pharmacies since April 7th.
If more tests are performed and more infections are detected, this means people will be isolated before they transmit the virus to others.
All these factors have contributed to the decline in Covid cases in Switzerland.