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COVID-19

REVEALED: Why Covid rates in some Swiss cantons are ‘five times’ higher

Infection rates in several smaller, German-speaking cantons are five times higher than those in Ticino. Why?

A Covid test centre
Covid case rates are much higher in some Swiss cantons than in others. Why is this? Christof STACHE / AFP

New analysis by Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper shows which factors are the most important in determining a canton’s infection rates. 

The analysis, published on November 30th and taking into account infection data across the previous two weeks, sought to get to the bottom of why some Swiss cantons had confirmed case levels five times higher than those in other cantons. 

The analysis, which is available here (in German), took into account seven different factors including voting behaviour, vaccination rates and population density. 

KEY POINTS: What are the new Covid travel rules between Switzerland and the UK?

The authors found that only two factors truly showed a meaningful correlation, while the others seemingly had a negligible influence on infection rates. 

Infection rates five times higher in some cantons

According to the authors, the starting point for the piece was the significant differences in infection rates from canton to canton. 

Covid measures, testing policy, healthcare quality and access to vaccination is roughly similar in each of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

Over the period surveyed, there were 378 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the southern canton of Ticino. 

In the smaller, central cantons however, cases per 100,000 inhabitants was as high as 1,817 (Appenzell Ausserrhoden) – almost five times higher than in Ticino – along with 1,752 (Schwyz), Nidwalden (1,723) and Appenzell Innerhoden (1,596). 

While Ticino had by far the lowest number of infections, lower case rates were also recorded per 100,000 people in Neuchâtel (560) and Vaud (582). 

‘Critical situation’: Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspots

The following map shows case rates in Switzerland and collaborates the findings from the NZZ. 

Please note that while the trends are largely similar, the map relates to November 14th to 29th, whereas the NZZ’s analysis runs from November 11th to 25th. 

What factors determine a canton’s case rate? 

In wanting to explain the differences, the NZZ said they boiled down seven factors which could influence a canton’s infection rates. 

These factors are: vaccination rate, mobility, immunity rate (through recovery), geographic location, population density, political preferences and education level. 

The authors acknowledged that this was not an exclusive list of every relevant factor underpinning a canton’s case rates, but hoped the criteria would account for as many relevant factors as could be considered. 

Of these seven factors, only two played a more than negligible role in a canton’s infection rate. 

Reader question: Does a booster shot extend the validity of Switzerland’s Covid certificate?

Political leanings

The first, which accounted for 62 percent of the differences between cantons, was the amount of Swiss People’s Party (SVP) voters a region had. 

The SVP, which is described as either right-wing or far-right by most political analysis, is most popular in smaller, German-speaking parts of the country. 

The authors pointed to several studies, including one by Swiss research agency Sotomo, which showed that SVP voters were much less willing to vaccinate than voters from other political parties. 

The SVP was the only mainstream political party to support a vote against Switzerland’s Covid measures including the Covid certificate in November’s referendum.  

The only two cantons to vote against the Covid measures at the referendum were Schwyz and Appenzell Innerhoden, which have some of the country’s highest case rates. 

Ueli Maurer, a two-time President of Switzerland who is a member of right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), was photographed at an SVP event in September wearing the Freiheitstrychler shirt.

Freiheitstrychler (“freedom bell ringers”) on the other hand, is an offshoot, militant group of the traditional ringers, who have been voicing their disagreement with the government’s anti-Covid measures.

Freiheitstrychler: Who are Switzerland’s ‘freedom bell ringers’?

Vaccination rate

The only other factor to make a significant difference is vaccination rate. 

The authors found vaccination rate explained 36 percent of the differences between cantonal infection rates. 

The study showed that an increase in the cantonal vaccination rate by one percentage point resulted in a decline in case numbers by 63 per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Other research has shown that although people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus, the unvaccinated are three times more contagious than the vaccinated, showing how effective the vaccines are at stopping the spread. 

Swiss Covid Task Force: Unvaccinated are three times more contagious

What does this mean for Switzerland? 

The authors speculated on why certain factors were important and why others weren’t. 

For instance, they noted that a similar analysis performed in September showed a higher correlation between vaccination and lower infection rates. 

They said this may illustrate the decline in the long-term protection offered by the current vaccines – and a need for Switzerland to speed up its booster campaign. 

On the other hand, the apparent lack of impact of Covid immunity through prior infection on case rates shows that vaccinations play a key role in preventing the spread of the virus. 

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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?

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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