Switzerland ‘three weeks behind Austria’ as hospitals warn of triage

The Swiss government on Tuesday warned the country was “three weeks behind Austria”, amid steep rises in Covid cases and a dramatic surge in hospital admissions.

An ambulance approaches Geneva University Hospital. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Experts have warned Switzerland's hospitals may soon be overloaded. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, several Swiss experts warned that Switzerland was on course to reach Covid infection rates similar to those of neighbouring Austria in three weeks time. 

Switzerland’s Covid Taskforce chief Tanja Stadler warned “Switzerland is three weeks behind Austria”, pointing to current trends in case numbers and hospitalisations. 

On Monday, November 22nd, Austria shuttered bars and restaurants, while announcing that the Covid vaccine will become compulsory in February next year. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland make the Covid vaccine compulsory?

The Taskforce said the number of people in hospital with Covid was increasing by 40 percent each week and will reach Austria-style capacities in mid-December, with surgeries cancelled and hospitals needing to make triage decisions about who to treat in intensive care. 

Some central Swiss cantons have already started putting plans in place to move patients due to capacity issues, while in Lucerne hospitals have been cancelling elective surgery appointments. 

“Elective interventions have already had to be postponed in order to be able to care for the people in the intensive care unit,” Lucerne health director Guido Graf told Blick. 

“We have to prepare for a new wave,” cantonal doctor Aglaé Tardin told the press conference. 

Federal Office of Public Health crisis management boss Patrick Mathys said “the situation is classified as critical.” 

New measures on the horizon? 

As recently on Thursday, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset ruled out tightening the existing Covid measures at a federal level. 

At the press conference, Mathys said the government’s newly approved booster campaign would help lighten the load on hospitals. 

READ MORE: Switzerland approves Covid-19 boosters for everyone over 16

Mathys did however call upon the cantons to put in place measures to stop the spread of the virus. 

As it stands, cantons with lower vaccination rates are being hit harder than those where more people are vaccinated. 

Mathys highlighted that the infection rate is six times higher in Nidwalden than in Ticino. 

More than 70 percent of people in Ticino have received at least one shot of the vaccine, while Nidwalden’s corresponding rate of 65.8 is lower than the national average. 

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”