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Omicron: Could Switzerland close its restaurants again?

Déjà-vu: Could Swiss restaurants close again because of Omicron? Photo by Miroslav Slapka on Unsplash
Déjà-vu: Could Swiss restaurants close again because of Omicron? Photo by Miroslav Slapka on Unsplash
With Switzerland hitting its highest confirmed case numbers on Wednesday - and higher numbers to follow - how likely is a tighter lockdown?

Further closures have been ruled out in Switzerland for the time being, experts are saying this measure may soon be necessary to keep the Swiss healthcare system from being overburdened by Covid patients.

In a report addressed to the Federal Council on December 11th and made public on Tuesday, the Covid-19 Task Force advocates the closure of all public places where wearing a mask is not possible, such as restaurants.

“If the spread of the Omicron variant cannot be contained, all places where it is not possible to wear a mask should be closed”, the report states.

The Task Force calls for these shutdowns to remain in force until there is a vaccine that protects against the new variant, which is not expected until spring.

The current vaccines used in Switzerland, Moderna and Pfizer, are believed to offer strong protection against Delta, but their efficacy is thought to be weaker in regards to Omicron.

And while health officials say a booster shot may offer higher resistance to Omicron, emerging data indicates that it diminishes after 10 weeks, though it keeps protecting against severe disease for longer.

As the Federal Council is not meeting during end-of-the-year holidays, any decisions regarding modifications of current measures would only be announced on January 12th.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current Covid measures?

There is, however, a growing concern among hospital officials about the overcrowding of intensive care units.

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.

Due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, which is now dominant in Switzerland, the pace of admissions “is accelerating”, Levrat said.

READ MORE: Omicron officially dominant in Switzerland

Other Swiss hospitals are under increasing pressure as well. Lucerne’s cantonal hospital, for instance, is overwhelmed by “mostly young and unvaccinated” Covid patients, “who require about as many resources as five to ten patients with heart problems,” said  Christoph Henzen, the hospital’s chief of internal medicine department.

“We are therefore in the process of preparing the decisions to triage patients”, he added, also calling for stricter nationwide measures to curb the spread the disease and help hospitals function more efficiently.

In Solothurn, Zurich and Fribourg over 90 percent of ICU beds are also occupied.

While in Solothurn “all urgent interventions can still be carried out”, according to spokesperson Oliver Schneider, in Zurich “urgent operations have to be postponed. We currently have 18 free places in intensive care units. That is very few”, said Ronald Alder deputy manager of the Zurich Hospitals Association.

Of 190 certified intensive care places, 57 are occupied by Covid patients — 85 percent of whom are not vaccinated —  and the trend is increasing.

Even though ICUs are nearly at full capacity, emergency care is in place and that no triages have been carried out as yet, Alder said.

 “Anyone who is sick should definitely see a doctor. We can’t have more patients with serious illnesses die”.

In Fribourg, 95.7 percent of intensive care beds are currently occupied. “We haven’t had to carry out any triages in the true sense yet, but we had to postpone urgent operations”, spokesperson Priska Rauber noted.

The fact that Swiss hospitals are still functioning is thanks to solidarity and cooperation among the institutions.

For example, Zurich has a database into which the free intensive care places are entered twice a day. The hospitals and the emergency services can always see where there are still places to accommodate patients.

READ MORE: Switzerland records new daily record for Covid cases


Member comments

  1. “The Task Force calls for these shutdowns to remain in force until there is a vaccine that protects against the new variant, which is not expected until spring.”

    Given the relatively mild impact (I am talking about about people getting really ill, not just a mild common cold) Omicron has had in e.g. South Africa and Denmark, this is just absurd.

    1. What the relevance of experiences in South Africa and Denmark (where most variables are totally different) have on Switzerland is beyond me and irrelevant.

      We are talking about Switzerland here.

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