Switzerland records new daily record for Covid cases

Switzerland has hit a new 24-hour record for Covid cases, although experts warn of higher figures on the horizon.

Two medical workers inside a Swiss hospital
Switzerland has hit its highest ever number of Covid cases. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland has registered 17,634 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, according to figures from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

This is the highest number of new daily infections since the pandemic began in March 2020 and is the first time the daily case figures have topped 17,000. 

“The situation is extremely unfavourable”, said Patrick Mathys, FOPH’s head of the crisis management section.

This increase in infections is in line with a recent analysis by the Covid-19 Task Force, which warned that “a number of cases exceeding 20,000 per day by the second week of January is a plausible scenario” for Switzerland.

READ MORE. ‘20,000 cases per day’: Experts draw Covid forecast for Switzerland

The Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), Switzerland’s largest medical facility, expects to be “under very strong tension” until the end of February, according to its director, Bertrand Levrat.

He added that 69.6 percent of the samples at the HUG screening centre turned out to be positive, a situation he qualified as  “unheard of”.

Hospitals in Zurich, Solothurn, Lucerne and Fribourg have also warned of overcrowding in ICUs, with each seeing a higher than 90 percent occupation rate as at December 28th

Doctors in Lucerne have warned that triage will soon start, while Zurich has postponed both urgent and non-urgent medical procedures. 

Doctors in each of the affected cantons have called upon people to get vaccinated to relieve some of the stress on the hospitals. 

Omicron behind case increase

One major reason for the increase is the spread of the Omicron variant, which experts believe is more transmissible than existing variants. 

The Omicron variant is now dominant in Switzerland. 

Around 57.8 percent of current cases are due to Omicron, with the variant expected to soon account for all Covid cases in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: Omicron officially dominant in Switzerland

While some experts have suggested Omicron is less dangerous than existing variants as it causes a less severe course of the disease, this is as yet unclear. 

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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?