Are cross-border workers spreading coronavirus between Switzerland and France?

A Lyon doctor claims that cross-border workers are partly responsible for the increase in Covid-19 infections in Haute-Savoie and Ain, the French départments that border Switzerland.

Are cross-border workers spreading coronavirus between Switzerland and France?
French doctor claims cross-border workers are 'superspreaders''. Photo by AFP

“The movement between the Swiss cantons and  border regions likely has a direct effect on the spread of the epidemic in France,” radiologist Pierre-Jean Ternamian told 20 Minutes news portal.

Ternamian, who is the president of the health professionals union in Lyon, noted that the rate of infections in the two departments nearest to Geneva is among the highest in France. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is the latest Covid-19 situation in Switzerland?

He said the spike in numbers is caused, at least to some extent, by cross-border commuters who get infected in their Swiss workplaces and then bring the virus back to France.

As young people make up a large proportion of the regions' Covid cases, it is a sign that working-age cross-border commuters are among the most impacted population, Ternamian argues.

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France – which contains Haute-Savoie and Ain – is under serious pressure and has had to begin transferring the sickest Covid patients out of the area as hospital intensive care units reach maximum capacity. The French health minister on Thursday night confirmed that 61 ICU patients have been transferred from Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

However, health officials on the Swiss side deny this claim.

Laurent Paoliello, the spokesperson for the Geneva Department of Health, said that “there is no such thing as ‘Swiss effect’ on France”.

“Infection rates are the same on both sides of the border.”

He pointed out that Geneva and the surrounding areas of France form “one large conglomeration, with the population that is suffering from an epidemic without borders”.

Paoliello also emphasised that it is crucial to keep the border open; its closure during the first coronavirus wave in the spring was “a nightmare”, he said.

More than 125,000 workers from France are employed is the area around Lake Geneva, which encompasses the cantons of Geneva and Vaud.

They are essential to local economy, including the healthcare sector. 

At Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG) alone, 60 percent of nurses and 9 percent of doctors are cross-border workers. 



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Paxlovid and vaccines: The latest Covid advice from the French government

The French health minister outlined on Friday the government recommendations amid the "tripledemic" of Covid-19, influenza, and bronchiolitis that has hit the country in recent weeks.

Paxlovid and vaccines: The latest Covid advice from the French government

French Health Minister François Braun held a press conference with other public health officials on Friday to provide the public with the government’s latest public health advice.

Earlier in the day, the French health minister said on BFMTV that fourth doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were available to all groups. Previously, only at-risk populations were eligible.

READ MORE: Can anybody in France now get the latest Covid booster vaccine?

Here is what the public health officials said:

The situation

Health Minister Braun began the press conference by reminding the public that France is facing a “triple epidemic,” as the nine Covid-19 wave occurs alongside seasonal illnesses of influenza and bronchiolitis. Specifically, the health minister said that hospital emergency room visits and hospitalisations for the flu had doubled in the last week.

Therefore Braun called for voluntary acts of “solidarity” to prevent a rise in cases and serious infections, particularly of Covid-19, during the end-of-year festivities. 

According to Braun, France counted more than 100,000 new Covid-19 contaminations in recent days, with more than 1,000 patients being treated in critical care services.

Wearing a mask

The public officials reminded the public that wearing a mask is an “act of solidarity.” While the mask is not required, it is highly recommended, particularly in “crowded and enclosed areas,” such as public transportation.

Minister Braun encouraged wearing a mask when travelling to Christmas holiday celebrations this year.

“You do not know if the person next to you is immune-compromised,” said COVARS head Brigitte Autran, recommending that people wear masks while travelling.

Braun also mentioned that in nursing homes and care centres, masks could become required, at the behest of the establishment’s management.

Getting vaccinated against both influenza and Covid-19

The minister of health noted that the level of vaccination in France against influenza was “five percent lower this year” when compared with 2021, making the population more vulnerable. Additionally, the minister expressed concern over the rate of vaccination against Covid-19 (second boosters) in nursing homes and care centres to be “too low,” with rates around “21 and 23 percent for the over 80s.”

Braun reiterated that all groups in France are now eligible for a second booster against Covid-19. The minister said he was “appealing to individual and collective responsibility” in encouraging people to get both the Covid-19 and flu vaccines prior to spending the Christmas holidays with family members.

The minister said that all groups in France should be eligible to receive both vaccines at the same time – one in each arm. 

READ MORE: Flu vaccine opens to all adults in France: What you need to know

Access to Paxlovid

Brigitte Autran said that the treatment drug, Paxlovid, is very effective against the BQ1.1 Covid-19 variant, which is circulating around France currently. She explained that groups at-risk of developping severe forms of Covid-19, or those whose immune systems did not generate responses to the vaccines, would be eligible for prescriptions from their primary care doctors for Paxlovid.

A prescription can be created for a three month period, without the patient needing to be sick with Covid-19 already. Once such a patient tests positive, they can use the existing prescription to access Paxlovid.

Protecting children and babies against bronchiolitis

Romain Basmaci, a pediatrician and professor of medicine, issued several recommendations. He advised that parents wipe down children’s toys and avoid sharing toys between two children. He also recommended that if a parent becomes sick, they should begin wearing a mask and decreasing physical contact with their young child to better protect them.

He added that keeping children’s noses clean and clear is a good practice to protect them while sick, even though there are no specific treatments for bronchiolitis. Additionally, he said that if your child is struggling to eat, smaller quantities rather than full meals may be a helpful way to ensure they remain well-nourished.