First Omicron cases detected in Switzerland

Three cases of the Omicron variant have now been detected in Switzerland.

A Covid test sits on some documents
The Omicron variant has now been detected in Switzerland. Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

The first two cases of the Omicron strain were detected in Switzerland, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) announced on Tuesday evening.

The two people, linked to each other, were placed in isolation. The cases were detected in Geneva among arrivals from South Africa. 

Both were unvaccinated, Swiss media reports

Another case was detected in a school in the northern canton of Basel, bringing the total number of cases to three. The vaccination status of this person is unclear. 

In each case, the people who tested positive and their contacts have been placed into quarantine. In the Basel case, around 100 students are currently in quarantine. 

Authorities have so far not indicated how the people were infected, i.e. whether they have been abroad in a country where the Omicron variant is more prevalent. 

READ MORE: Switzerland flags new measures, expansion of Covid certificate

Classified last Friday as “worrying” by WHO, Omicron, initially detected in South Africa, is spreading quickly in Europe.

The agency urged countries to conduct genomic sequencing and contact tracing of confirmed cases, and called for people to not travel to affected areas.

The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of Covid-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma. 

The Omicron strain is believed to be more transmissible and current vaccines may not provide adequate protection against it, though more data is still needed to be sure.

In Switzerland, travellers from 23 countries must present a negative PCR test when boarding a plane and entering Switzerland, then quarantine for 10 days.

READ MORE: UPDATE: What are the current rules for entering Switzerland?

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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?