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Covid infections in Switzerland skyrocket

On Wednesday, Switzerland recorded 3,291 new confirmed Covid infections — nearly a double the numbers recorded last week. This means coronavirus cases are now reaching levels similar to those of the second wave in the fall 2020.

Covid infections in Switzerland skyrocket
Things are getting worse in Switzerland, although almost all new infections are among the unvaccinated. Photo by Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

This spike is particularly strong among young people, including children.

Figures from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) indicate that between August 2nd and 8th, the increase was the greatest among those between 20 and 29 years of age — 3,056.89 cases for 100,000 people.

As The Local reported in July, “the fact that this age group has been hardest hit is perhaps not surprising, considering they have some of the lowest rates of vaccination”.

The next most affected group were children and teenagers from 10 to 19: 2,348.5 cases for 100,000.

By contrast, those from 70 to 79 and over 80 have the lowest rate of infections — 522.28 and 718.81, respectively. Health authorities believe this is because older age groups have been vaccinated at a higher rate than younger people.

Image: Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health

At the same time, hospitalisations are on the rise as well.

As an example, at the beginning of July, there were two to three coronavirus-related hospital admissions per day. Currently, the number has increased tenfold, according to Patrick Mathys, head of FOPH’s crisis management section.

“A new wave is looming. It’s tragic, and we don’t know how to stop it”, Nicolas Müller, Chief Physician at the Infectious Diseases Clinic at Zurich University Hospital, said in an interview.

Why are the infections soaring at this pace?

According to Müller, holidays play a big role: “Right now, we treat a lot of vacationers returning from travel”, he said.

This is in line with a finding in July, when contact tracers in Zurich saw that half of the canton’s contaminations were detected among tourists, especially those returning from Spain, but also from Greece. 

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

Can this trend be still turned around?

Health experts say it is possible, but only if more people get their shots.

Right now, more than 50 percent of the Swiss population is fully vaccinated, inching closer to the European Union’s average of 54 percent.

READ MORE: Half of Swiss population now double-jabbed against Covid

However, this rate is still not high enough to protect most of the population against the highly infectious Delta variant that has spread across the country, now accounting for 98 percent of all coronavirus cases in Switzerland.

The evidence clearly shows that vaccination is the most effective measure against Covid.

“It’s simple: we have almost no vaccinated person in intensive care, because vaccination protects very, very well against severe forms of the disease”, Müller said.  

As reported by The Local earlier in August, of the 4.2 million people to have been vaccinated against Covid, there have been 460 confirmed cases. In total, 96 people have been hospitalised and there have been 19 deaths – 18 of which were above 80 years of age. 

UPDATE: What is the risk of catching Covid and getting sick in Switzerland if you are vaccinated?

Could new restrictions be implemented in view of the worsening epidemiological situation?

Right now, Switzerland is not considering new measures to curb the pandemic, aside from urging more vaccinations.

However, that may change if there is no improvement — that is, if the numbers of infections continue to soar to the point that the healthcare system becomes overburdened.

“If we are to get everything back to normal, the vaccination campaign must speed up considerably. Otherwise, Swiss hospitals risk being overwhelmed again”, Müller pointed out.

To encourage more people to get vaccinated soonest possible, FOPH has launched a three-lingual campaign, urging the holdouts to “Nicht verpassen: impfen lassen” in German, “À ne pas manquer: faites-vous vacciner” in French, and “Non rimandare: fatti vaccinare” in Italian.

READ MORE: Switzerland launches ‘vaccine rhyme’ campaign to boost lagging jab rate

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Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

Even as other countries have started to administer fourth doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and the infections are on the rise again, Swiss health authorities still haven’t rolled out second boosters. This is why, and what lies ahead.

Reader question: When will Switzerland authorise second Covid booster shots?

As The Local reported on Tuesday, coronavirus is circulating again in Switzerland and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

In fact, over a million people in Switzerland could catch the virus this summer.

 “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.

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

Data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) indicates that the upward trend is already underway. The number of new reported cases has been soaring in the past few weeks — from below 10,000 a week in mid-April and beginning of May, to 24,704 new cases in the past seven days.

These are officially registered contaminations, but as “most of infected people will not be tested, the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler pointed out.

Although nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are more contagious but 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.

What is FOPH’s official stance on second boosters?

Health authorities are currently recommending them only for people in high-risk categories — that is, those with a very weak immune system.

“There is no need for the general public to receive an additional booster vaccination in the current situation. According to available data, people who are fully vaccinated or vaccinated and cured are still well protected against severe forms of COVID-19”, FOPH said on May 23rd.

There has been no change in strategy since then, despite the increasing infection rates.

However, authorities relented on one point: they now allow fourth doses to be administered to people whose Covid certificates have expired but who plan to travel to countries where up-to-date immunisations are required.

FOPH said these travellers can get “off-label” shots — meaning being vaccinated before the official authorisation to do so is issued — but these doses will not be free of charge.

“The price will be set by the cantons and the vaccination centres”, FOPH said, adding, however, that “second boosters for people with weakened immune systems will remain free”.

Why are Swiss health authorities dragging their feet in authorising second boosters?

As with the original vaccine rollout at the beginning of 2021, which took longer here than elsewhere, Swiss slowness may be due to the abundance of caution. For instance, drugs regulator Swissmedic “took longer than many countries to approve new vaccines”.

This time around, FOPH is taking its time to examine benefits of second boosters for general population (as opposed to at-risk groups).

Part of it may be the uncertainty prevailing over the efficacy of vaccines, which were conceived to combat the original early strains like Delta, not the variants, and sub-variants, that emerged later.

“The current vaccine does not provide clear protection against the Omicron”, according to Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of the immunology unit at Vaud university hospital (CHUV).

So when will Switzerland authorise second boosters?

Health officials said they will issue official recommendations “before the summer holidays”, which means shortly.

Two scenarios are currently  foreseen by FOPH: “It may be that an additional booster vaccination is recommended only for people over 65 and those suffering from certain chronic diseases, but it is also possible that it will be intended for the entire population”.

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