How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant
Swiss health experts predict that the highly contagious Delta virus will spread through the country in the coming months. Can its effect be lessened and if so, how?
The Delta variant of Covid-19, which was originally detected in India, has caused concern across the globe due to its potency and its apparent resistance to some vaccines.
The concern is so great that some countries, including Switzerland, have put tougher travel restrictions on countries where the variant is prevalent, including the United Kingdom and India.
Official statistics show that so about 10 percent of Switzerland’s population is affected by Delta.
As Nicola Low, professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University of Bern told The Local on Friday, “data about the proportion of cases caused by Delta are about two weeks behind, so the proportion now is actually higher than it appears."
Other health experts also say the number of infections caused by this variant, believed to be 50 percent more contagious than previous mutations, will grow in Switzerland between the end of summer and beginning of fall.
“The Delta will become dominant in our country within four to six weeks,” Urs Karrer, vice-chairman of the Covid-19 Task Force, told “NZZ am Sonntag”.
In the past the Task Force had predicted catastrophic scenarios for the Covid pandemic in Switzerland, which fortunately did not come to pass.
For instance, in April the experts said Switzerland’s contaminations will peak at 10,000 cases a day in June. This has not happened and, in fact, the number of infections has been dropping sharply the entire month.
However, forecasts relating to Delta are based on how quickly the variant has already spread through parts of Europe — including the UK — and the world.
Switzerland may fall victim to the variant because the government has just lifted many of the coronavirus restrictions.
“Right now, in my opinion, we should be more cautious because there are so many uncertainties about the situation”, Low said.
Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern, also expects a fourth wave fuelled by the Delta variant.
The lifting of measures combined with holiday travel to and from Switzerland, constitute an "explosive mixture in the diffusion of the Delta variant", he said.
How is Switzerland planning to prevent this variant from spreading?
The hopes are pinned on the vaccination campaign.
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.
“With a single dose, the vaccine protection against Delta is about 30 percent, which is lower than for previous variants ” according to epidemiologist Volker Thiel.
And Karrer estimated that "probably more than 60 percent of people who have not been vaccinated could become infected”.
To avoid this worst-case scenario, he said 2 million more people in Switzerland should be vaccinated as soon as possible, in addition to nearly 2.8 million who are already fully vaccinated.
Additionally, Low noted that as so many restrictions have been relaxed, Switzerland should adopt more preventive measures, such as more testing, and more rigorous contact tracing.
“The more measures, the better the control”, she said.