2G: Switzerland targets unvaccinated with new Covid measures

Switzerland will step up anti-Covid measures on Monday with a return to working from home and curbs on the unvaccinated, as the country battles an intense fifth wave of the virus.

Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset gestures during a press conference announcing new measures against the coronavirus. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset gestures during a press conference announcing new measures against the coronavirus. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The new measures come as authorities anticipate the arrival of the highly-mutated Omicron variant, believed to be more contagious than previous strains.

READ MORE: Switzerland announces new Covid measures to apply from Monday

“Only people who have been vaccinated or cured will have access to inside spaces at restaurants, cultural establishments and sports and leisure facilities, as well as to indoor events,” the country’s Federal Council said in a statement.

Private gatherings will be limited to 10 people, including children, if anyone among the group is not vaccinated or cannot show proof of recovery.

READ MORE: Switzerland to relax arrival test rules from Monday

The measures are aimed at preventing new infections among the unvaccinated “because they more easily transmit the virus and are more frequently faced with complications”, it added.

The vast majority of patients in intensive care in Switzerland, as elsewhere, are unvaccinated. Their number “has tripled in a month and a half”, Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters.

As of Monday, Switzerland had at least 300 Covid patients in intensive care, which it sees as a critical development. “This figure will increase to 350 or 400 by the end of the year,” the statement said.

More than 66 percent of Switzerland’s population of 8.6 million has been vaccinated, with Pfizer and Moderna jabs authorised for use in the country.

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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?