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Delta variant responsible for nearly 80 percent of new cases in Switzerland

The number of infections attributed to the Delta mutation is soaring in Switzerland much faster than originally thought.

Delta variant responsible for nearly 80 percent of new cases in Switzerland
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Swiss epidemiologists predicted that the highly contagious Delta mutation would become dominant in Switzerland, overtaking the other variants.

They just didn’t expect it would happen so quickly.

“The Delta will become dominant in our country within four to six weeks,” Urs Karrer, vice-chairman of the Covid-19 Task Force, said at the end of June.

From roughly 30 percent of new cases in early July, the variant accounts for 77.5 percent already on July 13th, according to data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

At the same time, the number of new daily infections reported by FOPH on Tuesday stands at 483, triple what it was at the beginning of July.

Contact tracers in Zurich are attributing this spike at least partly to unvaccinated people returning to Switzerland from Spain, but also from Greece.

Both countries, popular holiday destinations for Swiss tourists, are reporting higher infection rates.

READ MORE: Returning tourists fuel Zurich’s Covid case spike

So far, the number of hospitalisations or deaths has not risen significantly.

Is there a way to prevent further Delta-related contaminations?

Health officials have repeatedly said that vaccination is the only hope of curtailing the spread of this variant, as the two vaccines administered in Switzerland — Pfizer and Moderna — are believed to be effective against it.

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, according to epidemiologist Volker Thiel.

As this FOPH chart shows the number of Delta cases has climbed dramatically.

The spread of the highly contagious Delta correlates with more new cases detected in Switzerland, which have tripled since the end of June.

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

To date, over 3.6 million people — about 41 percent of the population — are fully vaccinated in Switzerland.

That is not enough to develop herd immunity or to stop the spread of mutations, experts say.

The pace of vaccinations has slowed down in recent weeks, but the hope is that more people will get their shots after the holidays.

If that doesn’t happen, however, Switzerland’s vaccination coverage will be closer to 60 percent than the original target of 80 percent set by the government.

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‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?