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COVID-19

Switzerland: How likely is another Covid-19 wave this fall?

Over the border in France, experts say a new wave of Covid in autumn is 'virtually certain', but in Switzerland authorities seem less worried.

Switzerland: How likely is another Covid-19 wave this fall?
The Covid outlook for Switzerland is good. Photo by Justin TALLIS / AFP

After a relative lull in the pandemic in the spring, Covid-19 cases surged at the beginning of the summer, driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron sub-variants.

The weekly reports on the epidemiological situation from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) show that the number of new cases kept steadily increasing until about the middle of July, when it peaked at about 56,000 new cases reported in Switzerland in a single week.

From then on, the numbers have been dropping steadily, with 18,204 new infections recorded this week.

What can we expect in the coming weeks and months?

One thing we have learned in the past two and a half years is that coronaviruses are unpredictable, and their evolution (or the emergence of new sub-variants) can’t be forecast with a high degree of certainty.

For instance, health experts did not foresee this summer’s outbreak, believing – based on the experiences of previous waves – that infections are more common in the autumn and winter when cold weather drives people indoors.

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

It is also difficult to predict what new sub-variants and mutations could emerge in the future, or what properties they will have.

Next wave and hospitals

Health officials in neighbouring France believe that a surge of Covid cases in the autumn is ‘virtually certain’.

Given the geographic proximity and the flow of people between the two countries, it is reasonable to expect the same scenario to unfold in Switzerland as well.

However, Swiss experts say they believe that even if there is a new wave, most people will have only mild or moderate symptoms.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, said Tanya Stadler, former head of the Covid-19 Task Force.

Based on the current evolution and forecasts, authorities say they don’t expect the health system to be overloaded with new Covid patients.

This is because “circulating sub-variants of Omicron do not cause more severe forms of the disease than the previous sub-variants”, the government said.

Vaccines

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine (representing a fourth dose for most people) is already available to people in high-risk groups, but while authorities are urging people to get vaccinated, they also say that if Omicron remains the dominant variant, no mass vaccinations will be needed in the near future.

“The current vaccine does not provide clear protection against the Omicron”, according to Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of the immunology unit at Vaud university hospital (CHUV).

That may change soon, however: both Pfizer and Moderna have asked Switzerland’s drug regulatory body, Swissmedic, to authorise their Omicron-adapted vaccines.

The agency is now reviewing the applications but once approved,  the new vaccines are expected to be used for the second round of booster shots, with the rollout for general public to begin sometime in the fall.

READ MORE: Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

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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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