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Covid situation in Switzerland worsens amid unprecedented explosion of cases

Stopping the virus in its tracks is the goal, but nobody knows how to do this. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Stopping the virus in its tracks is the goal, but nobody knows how to do this. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
As Omicron is spreading like wildfire through Switzerland, contaminating a record number of people, health authorities are sounding the alarm about the rapidly deteriorating epidemiological situation.

For the first time since the Covid pandemic officially started at the end of February 2020, the number of infections in the country has reached the highest-ever number on Wednesday: the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has reported 31,109 new cases.

This figure is 50 percent higher than the previous record a day earlier, when FOPH registered more than 20,000 infections. The new tally brings the rate of contaminations per 100,000 people to 2,315.58, from 1,531.47 only a week ago.

The highest concentration of infections (4,312.71 / 100,000) is in Ticino, followed by Jura (4,217.94).

Geneva (3,784.59), Valais (3,738.56), Graubünden (3,208.96), Vaud (3,138.09), and Fribourg (3,006.80), also exceed the national contamination rate by far.

In terms of geography, pockets of infection shifted from the eastern and central regions, which were the most impacted in mid-December, to the western cantons.

This is the distribution of hotspots in mid-December.

Hospitalisations

If there is any ‘good’ news amid this epidemiological disaster, it is that Covid-related hospital admissions have not climbed alongside new infections. 

While intensive care units remain close to capacity in several cantons, including in Zurich, Geneva, Solothurn, Lucerne and Fribourg, overall, 306 ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus cases as at January 4th, 373 by ‘regular’ patients, and 188 remain free.age

Image: FOPH

On cantonal basis, the highest proportion of Covid patients (82.4 percent) are in Solothurn, followed by Graubünden (55.6 percent).

Experts say if ICUs have not yet reached their full capacity, it is due to vaccination.

While much uncertainty remains about the level of protection that vaccines offer against the Omicron variant, which is now predominant in Switzerland, a new study published by the British health authorities confirms that the complete vaccination offers strong resistance against severe forms of the disease as well as hospitalisations.

This is confirmed by a Swiss epidemiologist Didier Trono. “The figures indicate that with a third dose of the vaccine, we have 88 percent less chance of ending up in hospital if we are infected with Omicron,” he said.

READ MORE: Why hospitalisations in Switzerland are not increasing despite soaring infections

Nevertheless, officials say that rapidly rising infection rates among the unvaccinated could soon impact the healthcare system.

“The situation is very tense because of Omicron. Hospitals still have capacity, but need to prepare for more severe cases ”, Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

In terms of deaths, the rates remain relatively low across the country, which experts attribute to vaccinations as well.

What are authorities doing to rein in the spread of infections?

So far, mostly talk.

Berset announced on Wednesday that the government decided against putting in place tighter Covid measures for the time being, although further restrictions (including closings) are ready to be implemented if the situation continues to deteriorate.

The crucial metric is not how many people are contracting the virus, but how many of those infected fall seriously ill. 

“The decisive factor is how many Omicron infected people need intensive care” Berset said.  

READ MORE: Switzerland decides against further Covid measures


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