Swiss president tells cantons to prepare hospitals for Covid patients

Swiss hospitals are told to get ready for coronavirus patients.
Geneva’s university hospital, along with other Swiss medical facilities, must prepare for influx of Covid patients. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Anticipating an increase in Covid admissions, Swiss President Guy Parmelin has told the cantons to prepare their hospitals for a surge in patients.

Despite the rapidly deteriorating epidemiological situation that the government qualified as “critical”, authorities said on Wednesday that additional measures should be the responsibility of the cantons, not the federal government.

READ MORE: Switzerland tells cantons to lead the fight against ‘critical’ Covid surge

In the meantime, president Guy Parmelin has sent a letter to cantonal health directors telling them to take the necessary measures to keep the situation under control.

In this letter, Parmelin reiterated that “the Federal Council has decided not to take any measures, being aware that hospitalisations can increase rapidly”.

He went on to urge cantons “to get hospitals ready for a new heavy workload. Postponement of elective procedures must be carefully prepared”.

Health officials have already reacted to Parmelin’s directive.

The Conference of Health Directors (CDS) confirmed that they are “determined to assume their responsibilities”.

At the same time, they call on the Federal Council to “take the necessary measures to bring the situation under control at federal level”.

“The experience of the last year shows that different measures in different cantons would meet with little understanding on the part of the population in the event of unfavourable developments on a national scale,” according to CDS.

“We need measures at the national level, otherwise the population no longer understands anything”, said Rebecca Ruiz, health director in Vaud.

She added that “the government is aware of the fact that hospitals risk being overwhelmed”.

However, “it is not easy to open additional intensive care beds, because we need trained personnel and today we have exhausted staff who are often absent due to illness”.

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What is the situation in hospitals right now?

At the moment, 184 intensive care beds out of 880 available in Switzerland are occupied by coronavirus patients — up from 154 a week ago —  while 494 are occupied by non-Covid cases, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

This leaves 192 beds free as of November 24th.

However, as the number of new daily infections is rising quickly, exceeding the 8,000-mark since the beginning of the week, Swiss experts are warning that Switzerland is on course to reach Covid infection rates similar to those of neighbouring Austria in three weeks’ time. 

The Covid-19 Task Force said the number of people in hospital with Covid was increasing by 40 percent each week and will reach Austria-style capacities in mid-December, with surgeries cancelled and hospitals needing to make triage decisions about who to treat in intensive care. 

READ MORE: Switzerland ‘three weeks behind Austria’ as hospitals warn of triage

Some central Swiss cantons have already started putting plans in place to move patients due to capacity issues, and Lucerne hospitals have been cancelling elective surgery appointments. 

“Elective interventions have already had to be postponed in order to be able to care for the people in the intensive care unit,” Lucerne health director Guido Graf told Blick

“We have to prepare for a new wave,” Geneva’s cantonal doctor Aglaé Tardin said.


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