'Covid-19 will never go away': How Switzerland must learn to 'live with the virus'
A prominent Swiss infectious disease specialist explains why coronavirus is here to stay for a long haul — and what we can do to minimise its risks.
“This virus will never go away and we will have to learn to live with it”, Didier Pittet, director of the Infection Control Programme at Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG) said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Parisien.
“For the virus to gain the upper hand, it has to take up more space, it has to be more contagious”, Didier said, explaining why the Delta mutation is spreading so fast around the world and is expected to become dominant in Switzerland by the beginning of autumn.
Paradoxically, variants often originate in countries with the most vaccinations, he said.
“The virus feels more resistance, has more and more capacity to say to itself: ‘I must change, otherwise I die’. It’s a survival instinct, not intelligence. Viruses are logistically well suited to adapt.”
So are we doomed or can we win the battle against the virus and its mutations?
“Ideally, all clusters should be terminated, otherwise there is a risk of resurgence”, Pittet pointed out.
The good news is that vaccines will eventually eliminate the virus — “perhaps less AstraZeneca than Moderna and Pfizer”, as the latter two are based on the mRNA technology believed to be more effective in preventing infections.
However, the process of eradicating the virus and its variants is likely to take a long time.
“It will take years until 100 percent of the population is immune to Covid-19, but vaccination helps to speed up this process.The more people are vaccinated, the lower the risk, since the virus cannot be passed on to a vaccinated person”.
"You can't stop the whole society because some people refuse to be vaccinated", Pittet added.
But since no vaccine has the efficacy rate of 100 percent — though Moderna and Pfizer are closest to that —measures such as testing, tracing, and isolating will have to continue .
“And it will be necessary to use health passes, so that certain activities are only accessible to people who have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from the disease,” Pittet said.
Is Switzerland heeding these recommendations?
As of July 1st, nearly 3 million people have received both doses of either Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, according to statistics from the Federal Office of Public Health.
That is more than one-third of Switzerland’s population.
Health officials say at least 4.8 million should be fully vaccinated to achieve the minimal herd immunity of 60 percent, though 80 percent would be better.
However, given the number of people who refuse the shots, it seems highly unlikely at this point that the 100-percent vaccination rate mentioned by Pittet as the only way to eradicate the virus will be achieved in Switzerland.
However, the strategy that the government outlined on Wednesday to contain future outbreaks, includes the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of testing and tracing.