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COVID-19

Vaccinations to hospital numbers: How the Covid situation is evolving in Switzerland

There is (relatively) good news and bad news on the Covid front in Switzerland. This is what you should know about both.

Vaccinations to hospital numbers: How the Covid situation is evolving in Switzerland
Situation in ICUs is still bad. Photo by MARIO TAMA/ AFP

Let’s start with the positive news first.

For the past several days, the number of new daily infections reported in Switzerland dropped from more than 3,000 to 2,262 on Thursday.

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has not said whether this decrease is due to the higher vaccination rate recorded since the announcement of the Covid certificate extension, which went into effect on September 13th.

READ MORE: TODAY: Switzerland extends Covid certificate for entry to restaurants and bars

Where are most of these cases?

As this FOPH map shows, Appenzell Innerrhoden has the highest infection rate — 1190.48 per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Glarus 1019. 96 / 100,000. Both cantons’ rate exceeds by far the national average of 390.03 / 100,000.

Six other cantons are above the national average as well: Obwalden (672.29), Appenzell Ausserrhoden (661.92) and Thurgau (657.13), Schwyz (523.43), Zurich (440.53) and Schaffhausen (425.03).

Hospitalisations

This is where the developments are less positive.

Unlike the number of cases, the number of beds in intensive care units occupied by coronavirus patients is not dropping.

Latest FOPH data indicates that 263 beds out of the total of 850 in Swiss ICUs are occupied by Covid patients — up from 183 one month ago. Nationally, this translates into an average of 30.9 percent, but some cantons have exceeded this number.

In Solothurn, for instance, 76.5 percent of ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus cases, 62.5 percent in Zug, and 57.1 percent in Thurgau.

However, these figures are likely higher “due to the different reporting times and procedures”, according to FOPH.

“Without the Covid, these beds would be occupied by other patients. In addition, while some patients only stay in intensive care for two or three days, those who are there because of the Covid stay 15 days on average. It’s a struggle for every bed”, said Urs Karrer, member of the Covid-19 Task Force.

But the impact of the increased number of cases extends far beyond the ICUs; all the other hospital services must be reorganised to accommodate Covid patients, taking vital resources away from other services.

“Currently, cardiologists and oncologists must help the Covid service. This means they can provide less care for patients with cancer or heart disease”, Karrer noted.

READ MORE: ‘A struggle for each bed’: How Covid admissions impact hospitals in Switzerland

Deaths

There are significantly fewer people dying from complications of coronavirus now than in the midst of the pandemic in spring and fall of 2020.

The numbers remain fairly stable, with slight increase in Bern and Zurich.

Vaccinations

The extension of the Covid certificate prompted increasing numbers of people to get their shots.

While on August 31st, only 50.92 percent of Switzerland’s population was fully vaccinated, that number crept up to 53.32 percent on Friday, according to FOPH. 

It is still lower than vaccination rate in neighbouring countries, which exceeds 60 percent, but health officials hope the pace of inoculations in Switzerland will pick up within the next few weeks

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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