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COVID-19 STATS

‘Too early to celebrate’: How Omicron is still holding Switzerland in its grip

Although epidemiologists believe the pandemic in Switzerland has likely reached its peak, the number of Covid cases continues to climb.

There is still space in Swiss ICUs at the moment. Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash
There is still space in Swiss ICUs at the moment. Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

On Wednesday, Switzerland reached a new record in terms of coronavirus cases: 43,199 new infections were reported. There are now 4,821.80 contaminations per 100,000 people — the highest number ever recorded.

“The increase is exponential”, said Urs Karrer, vice-president of the Covid-19 Task Force.

And even though Virginie Masserey, head of the infection control unit at the Federal Department of Public Health (FOPH) said “we can be reasonably optimistic”, others, like Patrick Mathys, FOPH’s chief of crisis management warned that “it is too early to celebrate” pandemic’s end, as Omicron continues to spread rapidly across the country.

Where are the current Covid hotspots?

While in the fall most pockets of infections were found in the eastern and central parts of Switzerland, they have since migrated west, now affecting mostly French-speaking cantons.

Geneva has the highest rate (7,159.77 / 100,000), followed by Neuchâtel (6,568.16). Vaud, Fribourg, and Valais also exceed the national average for the number of declared cases.

Image: FOPH

READ MORE: Covid: One in ten Swiss infected in past week

On the other hand, there is some positive news regarding hospitalisations: the number of Covid patients admitted to intensive care units has been stable and even dropping “due to the growing immunity of the population and the lower virulence of Omicron”, according to Karrer.

As at January 25, 215 ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus patients — 32 less than the previous week.

Image: FOPH

Virtually all patients admitted to Swiss healthcare facilities have contracted the more virulent Delta variant which, though less prevalent than Omicron, is still spreading in Switzerland among the unvaccinated.

As in previous weeks, the vast majority of patients are unvaccinated.

Image: FOPH

The number of deaths is also dropping due to vaccinations, according to FOPH.

Image: FOPH

What do health experts say about the possible evolution of the epidemiological situation?

A number of health officials believe that pandemic is winding down.

Marcel Tanner, an epidemiologist at University of Basel, said that the situation should stabilise in the summer and generalised rules such face masks and the Covid certificate mandate will no longer be necessary “if we continue to get vaccinated and get booster doses”.

Other experts also say that with more people contracting Omicron, the level of immunity is growing within the population, signalling the pandemic’s end.

READ MORE: Covid-19: What will summer 2022 look like in Switzerland?

However, a new development to contend with on the epidemiological front is the recent appearance of the Omicron sub-variant,  the so-called BA.2.

This sub-type is already present in Switzerland, although still rare, as opposed to the main Omicron variant, which now accounts for nearly 94 percent of all Covid cases.

“This makes Omicron even more mysterious. To date, we cannot explain this atypical development”, said Richard Neher, who researches viruses at University of Basel.

A return to square one of the global health crisis is unlikely, Neher said, but “it is too early to speak of an endemic situation as the proportion of unimmunised people  is still too high in Switzerland.

And it can’t be excluded that Omicron evolves again — producing more mutations — or  that a variant like Delta regains strength, Neher pointed out.

Member comments

  1. I would say that the number of people recovered from covid (detected 20000 in last month) is also having relevant influence in the decrease of hospitalisations. According to the numbers (please check that “vast majority”) 56% of hospitalisations are un-vaccitaned, hence I guess the vaccination alone cannot explain the whole trend.

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COVID-19 STATS

Why Europe could be headed for pandemic ‘endgame’

The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe, the WHO Europe director said on Monday.

People queue outside a pharmacy to receive Covid-19 antigenic tests
People queue outside a pharmacy to receive Covid-19 antigenic tests on January 10, 2022 in Marseille, southern France, as Covid-19 cases soar in Europe. (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

“It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview, adding that Omicron could infect 60 percent of Europeans by March.

In a statement on Monday he added: “We are entering a new phase, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant sweeping Europe, from west to east.”

Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, “there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality”.

“We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,” Kluge said.

“The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022 and address other health threats that urgently require our attention.”

 

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday, telling ABC News talk show “This Week” that with Covid-19 cases coming down “rather sharply” in parts of the United States, “things are looking good”.

While cautioning against over confidence, he said that if the recent fall in case numbers in areas like the US’s northeast continued, “I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country”.

The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.

‘Other variants could emerge’

The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.

But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.

“There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means … that it is possible to predict what’s going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,” Kluge said.

With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.

The European Commissioner for Internal Markets, Thierry Breton, whose brief includes vaccine production, said Sunday that it will be possible to adapt existing vaccines to any new variants that may emerge.

“We will be able to better resist, including to new variants”, he told French television LCI.

“We will be ready to adapt the vaccines, especially the mRNA ones, if necessary to adapt them to more virulent variants”.

In the WHO Europe region, which comprises 53 countries including several in Central Asia, Omicron now accounts for 31.8% of cases across the European Region, up from 15% the previous week, and 6.3% the week before that. 

Omicron is now the dominant variant in the European Union and the European Economic Area (EEA, or Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), the EU health agency ECDC said last week.

Impact on Europe

Because of the very fast spread of the variant across Europe, Kluge said emphasis ought to be on “minimising disruption of hospitals, schools and the economy, and putting huge efforts on protecting the vulnerable”, rather than measures to stop transmission.

He meanwhile urged people to exercise personal responsibility.

“If you don’t feel well, stay home, take a self test. If you’re positive, isolate”, he said.

Kluge said the priority was to stabilise the situation in Europe, where vaccination levels range across countries from 25 to 95 percent of the population, leading to varying degrees of strain on hospitals and health-care system.

“Stabilising means that the health system is no longer overwhelmed due to Covid-19 and can continue with the essential health services, which have unfortunately been really disrupted for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and routine immunisation”.

Asked whether fourth doses would be necessary to bring an end to the pandemic, Kluge was cautious, saying only that “we know that that immunity jumps up after each shot of the vaccine”.

The pandemic has so far killed nearly 5.6 million million people worldwide, according to official figures compiled by AFP, 1.7 million of them in Europe.

Kluge said: “Every single hour since the pandemic’s onset, 99 people in the Region have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“We mourn the more than 1.7 million people in the European Region who are no longer with us. Gains in poverty reduction have been reversed, with more than 4 million people in the Region now pushed under the 5.50 USD a day poverty line. Children’s education and mental well-being have suffered immensely.”

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