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COVID-19

‘Not bad news’: Why Swiss experts are optimistic about rising Covid cases

Two weeks after Switzerland lifted almost all restrictions, the number of infections is climbing back up again. Why is this happening and what does it mean?

'Not bad news': Why Swiss experts are optimistic about rising Covid cases
Covid cases are on the rise, mostly with mild symptoms. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels

After reaching the peak in January, then falling and stabilising for a while — prompting the Federal Council to scrap nearly all health measures from February 17th —  the number of new infections in on the rise again.

From just over 16,000 cases in the third week of February, the number jumped to more than 18,000 seven days ago, and to 25,131 additional cases on Friday — an increase of over 31 percent in one week, according to data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

Image: FOPH

While this increase may be disappointing for all those who are hoping the Federal Council will lift remaining Covid rules — masks on public transportation and in health establishments, as well isolation obligation for infected individuals — from the end of the month, this epidemiological evolution was predictable.

In the very least, “it is not a surprise”, Didier Pittet, head of the infection prevention service at Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG), said in an interview with RTS public broadcaster on Friday.

That’s because “we know that Omicron is extremely contagious”, he said, noting that this variant now accounts for 99.7 percent of all Covid cases in Switzerland.

“The impact of contamination is currently commonplace. We relaxed the measures, we expected that there would be transmission”.

While the virus “is problematic for unvaccinated people,” the fact that number of infections is climbing “is not necessarily bad news because these contaminations contribute to building our immunity”, Pittet pointed out.

While those who have not had their vaccines may have a more severe course of the disease, others “will have small colds and headaches. It’s not too serious. We probably have to go through this stage so that immunity grows and next fall we are better armed for the very likely return of this virus”, he said.

The only way this spike in infections would cause alarm is if the number of Covid patients suddenly increased in Swiss hospitals, leading to eventual saturation of ICUs.

So far, this does not seem to be the case, though more Covid admissions have been registered in one week: from 127 on February 28th to 138 on March 2nd. As a comparison, 306  ICU beds were occupied by coronavirus patients at the beginning of January.

READ MORE: Why did Switzerland relax Covid measures?

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COVID-19

‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?

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