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Why hospitalisations in Switzerland are not increasing despite soaring infections

Swiss ICUs are busy, but the number of Covid-related cases remains stable for now. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss ICUs are busy, but the number of Covid-related cases remains stable for now. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Although the number of Covid cases is skyrocketing in Switzerland, the figures for hospital admissions have remained comparatively stable. This is why.

Across recent weeks, Switzerland’s daily Covid case rate has continued to break previous records. 

Over the first 20 months of the pandemic, Switzerland had recorded more than 10,000 cases in a 24-hour period only on a small number of occasions. 

Over the past few weeks however, daily infections have almost doubled. On Tuesday, January 4th, new daily infection numbers crossed 20,000 for the first time. 

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

Unlike in the early days of the pandemic however, hospitalisation rates have not climbed alongside new infections. 

While ICUs remain close to capacity in several cantons – in Zurich, Geneva, Solothurn, Lucerne and Fribourg have also warned of overcrowding in ICUs, with each seeing a higher than 90 percent occupation rate – non-ICU hospitalisations remain comparatively steady. 

As at January 2nd, 308 coronavirus patients were hospitalised in ICUs in Switzerland — seven less than in the previous week. (However, hospital statistics are not updated daily, so this number may not reflect the situation as it is real-time).

In all, 74.3 percent of the country’s ICU beds are currently occupied, half of which are taken up by Covid patients.

Nearly 26 percent of Switzerland’s total ICU capacity is still free, which translates into 221 beds, according to FOPH.

Why aren’t there more hospitalisations in view of the steadily growing number of infections?

According to health experts, we can thank Omicron, previous immunity and vaccinations.

“The gap between the number of those infected and those hospitalised is widening more than ever before in this pandemic”, Daniel Koch, former head of FOPH’s infectious diseases unit, said in an interview with Watson news platform.

“(The current situation) is less dramatic than what we had feared.

“This has to do with Omicron, but also with the fact that, thanks to the vaccination or a previous illness, many people have a basic immunity that protects them from a serious course of the disease”, he added.

Koch said the new developments illustrated Switzerland needed to avoid putting in place any further drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus – and that all measures should be targeted at protecting the most vulnerable. 

For Didier Trono,  who heads the virology laboratory at the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL), there are also two explanations for this disconnect between the infection and hospitalisation curves.

First, the population is mostly immune to the virus, either by vaccine or by previous contamination.

While it is not certain to what extent vaccines protect against this variant, experience so far has shown that people who had had two shots of either Moderna or Pfizer/Biontech vaccine within the last four months, and especially those who received a booster dose, are only mildly ill if they do catch Covid.

Second, the Omicron virus appears to create less severe forms than the Delta variant, he said.

Is Omicron less severe than known variants?

Omicron, which is more contagious than Delta and spreads more rapidly, is now a predominant variant in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Omicron officially dominant in Switzerland

However, some epidemiologists believe that it is also less virulent, which would imply that most people don’t have severe symptoms after contracting this mutation and don’t require hospitalisation.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported on Sunday that six studies completed in several different countries including the United Kingdom, United States, Belgium, South Africa and Hong Kong showed that the virus may do less damage to patients’ lungs than known variants, at least in part because it replicates in the throat rather than in the lungs. 

There are also some indications that those infected with Omicron have a lower viral load than with other variants, which could mean a more mild course of the disease. 

In neighbouring Austria, health officials said over the weekend said that despite the Omicron variant being dominant in the capital Vienna, nobody carrying the variant had been admitted to hospital


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