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Why Switzerland is not considering new measures despite rising Covid case numbers

Why Switzerland is not considering new measures despite rising Covid case numbers
Vaccination is the only hope of avoiding another shutdown. Photo by MEHDI FEDOUACH / AFP
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, the question is whether the Swiss government will re-implement some of the restrictions it had eased at the end of June.

After a marked decline in infections throughout most of June —prompting the government to ease many measures — the number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland has been soaring in the past three weeks.

The culprit is the highly contagious Delta variant, which is spreading throughout Switzerland much faster than originally thought — primarily among the unvaccinated people. From roughly 30 percent of new cases reported in early July, the mutation accounts for 77.5 percent of all infections currently.

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

On Friday June 16th, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has reported 619 new cases. That’s four times as many as a month ago, when the rates were steadily declining.

READ MORE: Why are Switzerland’s Covid rates on the rise once again?

Even though health officials concede they didn’t expect the number of infections “to increase so much and so quickly”, there are no imminent plans to implement new restrictions.

In May, the Federal Council set out the criteria under which new measures would become necessary.

Among them is the condition that the 14-day rate of infections must remain under 600 for 100,000 people. As of Friday July 17th, it was 52.82.

As a comparison, during the peak of the pandemic in June 2020, that number was 7,830.

“At the moment, it is mainly young people who are infected. They apparently don’t burden the hospitals, nor do they normally die from Covid”, said Health Minister Alain Berset.

Another criterium  is that occupancy of the beds in the intensive care units by Covid patients  doesn’t exceed 300 over a 14-day period. Currently, that number is 37.

Some experts say the surge in numbers is not a cause for concern.

“I am not worried at all”, Daniel Koch, who headed the infectious disease section at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) at the beginning of the pandemic, said in an interview on Saturday.

“The increasing incidence figures depend on many factors, including the number of tests”, he noted.

Koch added that to keep infections from rising and avoid new restrictions, “it is important that the vaccination numbers are significantly higher by autumn and winter”.

This stance is echoed by Berset, who pointed out that current situation “is completely different” than it was during the first and second waves.

The reason: “Now we have the vaccination and two-thirds of the adult population in our country have had at least the first dose”.

In fact, he said new measures are not being considered at the moment because all hopes are pinned on the vaccination campaign.

Asked what could happen in the near future, Berset replied that “it is impossible to work with forecasts. But we have to work with scenarios”.

He reiterated that the Federal Council will continue to follow the three-phase strategy it established in May, with the next phase expected at the end of August.

At that point, “social and economic restrictions will no longer be justified. The remaining measures will be gradually lifted”.

READ MORE: Why have new Swiss Covid cases doubled in one week?


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