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COVID-19

UPDATE: First Omicron cases detected in Zurich and Bern

The first cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in Zurich and Bern, bringing the total number of cases in Switzerland to five.

A sign in German which says
One case of Omicron has now been detected in Zurich, bringing the total number of cases in Switzerland to four. Photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Both cases were confirmed on Thursday.

In Zurich, the infected person and four contacts in quarantine. 

The person travelled to Switzerland from South Africa on November 23rd and felt symptoms of the virus two days later before testing positive. 

In Bern the person arrived from South Africa four to five days ago, reported only mild symptoms and only came into contact with one person, who is in isolation. 

This is the first case to be confirmed in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest canton. 

The vaccination status of the infected person has not yet been released by Swiss authorities. 

Of the three others to test positive for the Omicron variant in Switzerland, the two in Geneva were unvaccinated while one in Basel was fully vaccinated against the virus. 

Due to the concern about the Omicron variant, Swiss authorities announced that everyone who comes into contact with someone who has been infected must quarantine. 

Omicron in Switzerland: Vaccinated people also have to quarantine

Swiss authorities have also tightened borders due to concern about the virus. 

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

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

“Worrying variant”

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.

EXPLAINED: How will Switzerland enforce the Covid certificate in private homes?

While some experts have expressed concern that the highly transmissible variant can evade vaccines, early evidence from Israel suggests the vaccines remain 90 percent effective in stopping the spread of the variant. 

This compares with a 95 percent effectiveness rate in preventing the spread of the dominant Delta strain of the virus. 

Ugur Sahin, boss of Biontech who co-developed one of the most prominent vaccines for the virus, said that even if vaccinated people contract Omicron, they are unlikely to receive a severe course of the disease. 

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COVID-19

Switzerland: How likely is another Covid-19 wave this fall?

Over the border in France, experts say a new wave of Covid in autumn is 'virtually certain', but in Switzerland authorities seem less worried.

Switzerland: How likely is another Covid-19 wave this fall?

After a relative lull in the pandemic in the spring, Covid-19 cases surged at the beginning of the summer, driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron sub-variants.

The weekly reports on the epidemiological situation from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) show that the number of new cases kept steadily increasing until about the middle of July, when it peaked at about 56,000 new cases reported in Switzerland in a single week.

From then on, the numbers have been dropping steadily, with 18,204 new infections recorded this week.

What can we expect in the coming weeks and months?

One thing we have learned in the past two and a half years is that coronaviruses are unpredictable, and their evolution (or the emergence of new sub-variants) can’t be forecast with a high degree of certainty.

For instance, health experts did not foresee this summer’s outbreak, believing – based on the experiences of previous waves – that infections are more common in the autumn and winter when cold weather drives people indoors.

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

It is also difficult to predict what new sub-variants and mutations could emerge in the future, or what properties they will have.

Next wave and hospitals

Health officials in neighbouring France believe that a surge of Covid cases in the autumn is ‘virtually certain’.

Given the geographic proximity and the flow of people between the two countries, it is reasonable to expect the same scenario to unfold in Switzerland as well.

However, Swiss experts say they believe that even if there is a new wave, most people will have only mild or moderate symptoms.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, said Tanya Stadler, former head of the Covid-19 Task Force.

Based on the current evolution and forecasts, authorities say they don’t expect the health system to be overloaded with new Covid patients.

This is because “circulating sub-variants of Omicron do not cause more severe forms of the disease than the previous sub-variants”, the government said.

Vaccines

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine (representing a fourth dose for most people) is already available to people in high-risk groups, but while authorities are urging people to get vaccinated, they also say that if Omicron remains the dominant variant, no mass vaccinations will be needed in the near future.

“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).

That may change soon, however: both Pfizer and Moderna have asked Switzerland’s drug regulatory body, Swissmedic, to authorise their Omicron-adapted vaccines.

The agency is now reviewing the applications but once approved,  the new vaccines are expected to be used for the second round of booster shots, with the rollout for general public to begin sometime in the fall.

READ MORE: Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

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