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QUARANTINE

Should Switzerland abolish quarantines and roll back testing for Covid-19?

Even though the quarantine period has already been cut from seven to five days, some Swiss heath experts say confinement — and in some cases screening as well — should be scrapped altogether.

Will Switzerland scrap its quarantine requirement, as some experts propose? Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Will Switzerland scrap its quarantine requirement, as some experts propose? Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

While this may seem like a risky move while Omicron continues to infect tens of thousands of people each day, a number of Swiss experts believe quarantines and, in some cases testing, are useless.

As nearly 215,000 people in Switzerland are currently confined to their homes because they either tested positive or were in contact with an infected person, some health experts are calling for the end to quarantines.

They question the usefulness of quarantines for preventive purposes, as well as mass testing, in curbing the spread of the Omicron variant.

READ MORE: Switzerland to cut quarantine period for vaccinated and extend current measures

“Currently, counting undeclared cases, we have between 50,000 and 100,000 infections per day. One can wonder if someone who is in quarantine because he is a contact case still represents a greater risk than others who move around freely in society”, said Jürg Utzinger, director of the Tropical and Public Health Institute.

Under these circumstances, and given the economic costs of home confinements, it would be better to abolish quarantines and widespread testing until the number of cases drops to a much lower level, he said.

And once the numbers return to a lower threshold and become more manageable and easier to trace, both testing and quarantines could return to prevent infections from soaring again, Utzinger pointed out.

At the moment, however, it is necessary to establish priorities by reserving PCR tests for symptomatic people or those who work in exposed sectors, such as healthcare, according to Utzinger.

In the meantime, “we must temporarily suspend mass testing so as not to overload the laboratories”, he noted.

READ MORE: Switzerland drops PCR tests for confirming positive rapid antigen test

Philipp Walter, president of the Swiss Union for Laboratory Medicine, agrees. “You have to ask yourself how much screening still makes sense. Testing does not cure. And if so many people are infected, it is better to assume that everyone can be positive”, he said.

As for immunologist Daniel Speiser, quarantines are not very useful, but screening remains important.

“Even if the results of the PCR tests arrive late, they still have the effect of curbing contamination,” he noted.

On the positive note, and echoing the view of many other health experts, Speiser believes that Omicron will put an end to the pandemic, as this variant will not be supplanted by another in the foreseeable future.

“Omicron is so successful that it is difficult to beat it,” he quipped.

Utzinger agrees: “We will very soon experience the peak of this wave and the number of cases will then decrease as quickly as it has increased”.

What other, looser measures are being proposed in Switzerland?

After Spain has proclaimed it wants to stop counting daily infection rates and instead treat Covid the same way as a seasonal flu — that is, with selective surveillance — some Swiss experts said they support this approach.

Valérie D’Acremont, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Lausanne, believes Switzerland should follow the Spanish strategy and adopt the same monitoring system as it already has in place for counting flu cases.

This new approach would signal the transition from a pandemic mode to an endemic one, meaning the disease is commonly found among the population and its evolution has become predictable.

Health Minister Alain Berset has recently mentioned this transition “from a pandemic to an endemic phase with high levels of immunity already reached” in Switzerland.

Even so, it is too early to end quarantine and testing, Berset pointed out.

“We can’t say that this week, or the next, it will be possible to remove all the measures that are currently in place”.

Member comments

  1. Abolish immediately, and keep restrictions on the over 50s if neccessary, seeing as they are the ones filling ICUs

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For members

COVID-19

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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