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ZURICH

‘40,000 cases daily in Zurich’ as authorities warn of triage for the unvaccinated

Zurich Health Director Natalie Rickli has warned Zurich could hit 40,000 daily Covid cases and called for a relaxation in the quarantine rules. Rickli also warned hospitals may have to prioritise the vaccinated, saying Switzerland should “no longer be held hostage” but those who refuse the jab.

Zurich health boss Natalie Rickli warned Switzerland would not be
Zurich health boss Natalie Rickli warned Switzerland would not be "held hostage" by the unvaccinated. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

In December, Swiss health officials warned the country could cross the 20,000 daily Covid case mark for the first time in the new year. 

‘20,000 cases per day’: Experts draw Covid forecast for Switzerland

In just the first week of January, not only was the 20,000 case barrier crossed for the first time, but more than 30,000 cases were recorded in a 24-hour period on multiple occasions. 

Zurich Health Director Natalie Rickli has warned that the situation will continue to spiral, with internal modelling showing Zurich could itself be recording 40,000 cases per day by the end of January. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current Covid measures?

While Zurich is Switzerland’s most populous canton, 40,000 cases per day would see the region plunged into uncertainty and havoc, with businesses and essential services being forced to shut down due to staff quarantines. 

“We are dealing with a monster wave that cannot be stopped. It will overrun the country in the next few weeks,” Rickli told Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper. 

“They (Covid cases) will paralyse our society if we do not act now.”

Rickli called for a reduction in the quarantine rules, particularly for those who have been vaccinated. 

“That is why the federal government urgently needs to reduce the duration of the quarantine and isolation to five days. We, (the) Health Directors of the cantons of eastern Switzerland, asked the Federal Council by letter on Friday to adjust isolation and quarantine accordingly.”

Switzerland will announce a possible change to the quarantine rules on Wednesday, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer confirmed. 

Covid-19: What will Switzerland announce on Wednesday?

Triage for unvaccinated Covid patents? 

Ricki also brought up the controversial topic of hospitals deciding between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients in ICUs. 

While the current situation in Zurich’s hospitals and ICUs is relatively stable, a dramatic increase in cases could again lead to overcrowding. 

Rickli said those who refused the jab should be prepared to give up ICU spots for those who have been jabbed. 

“But above all you would have to take those at their word who absolutely refused to be vaccinated. At the moment they make up around 80 percent in the intensive care units,” she said. 

“I think such patients should also be prepared to forego intensive treatment and not burden the staff with it for weeks. 

“It cannot be that the unvaccinated continue to take us hostage as a society, now that you can see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Swiss authorities have repeatedly ruled out triage between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in Switzerland, saying the main criteria should remain the chances of survival of respective patients. 

READ MORE: Should vaccinated people have triage priority in Swiss hospitals?

Member comments

  1. At the same time we should prioritise out people who smoke, drink, eat and sit themselves sick! They should not benefit of their health insurance on the cost of all of us who are strong, healthy and more or less bold and beautiful!

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ZURICH

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

A deadly virus has swept through Zurich's zoo, killing three Asian elephants in a month. Experts are stumped about the virus and don't know how to stop its spread.

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest city now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-square-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure.

Two-year-old bull Umesh was the first to fall victim to the Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) at the end of June, followed just days later by his eight-year-old sister Omysha.

Last Saturday, Ruwani, a five-year-old female from a second matriarchal herd also died.

They succumbed at lightning speed to the herpesvirus, which leaves young Asian elephants with internal bleeding and organ failure.

In captivity, this virus is “the main cause of death for elephants between two and eight years”, zoo curator Pascal Marty told AFP.

The virus has also been known to kill elephants in the wild, he said, but “it’s a bit harder to detect”.

Last goodbye

The herpesvirus lies latent in nearly all elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, but can in some cases suddenly become deadly, killing its victims in a matter of days.

“We still don’t know why it happens and when it happens,” Marty said.

The zoo’s five remaining Asian elephants — all adults — were permitted to spend a few hours gathered around the remains of their young family members and companions.

Marty said it was important to give the animals “enough time (to) say farewell”. “It’s very hard to say whether or not they are sad, because sadness is something human,” he said.

But he stressed that since elephants are highly social animals, it is vital that they have a chance to realise when a member of their herd is no longer alive.

“It is very important for them to have closure to understand this individual is not part of our group anymore.”

Less than a week after the latest death, the giant mammals appear to be going nonchalantly about their daily activities, from swimming in a large pond to searching for food.

They slip their trunks into holes, where a computer programme randomly distributes carrots and dried grass, aiming to make the animals walk and search for food as in the wild. 

Stress 

“It is kind of sad, especially because here in Zurich I think the elephants do have enough space,” said frequent visitor Mauro Muller, 29. Zurich zoo opened its new elephant enclosure in 2014, providing its herds six times more space than they had previously.

But eight years on, the zoo acknowledged it was going through “difficult days”.

“It is particularly frustrating that we are powerless against this virus, despite the best veterinary care through the university animal hospital in Zurich,” zoo director Severin Dressen said in a statement.

There is no vaccine, and while antivirals exist, they are not very efficient and even when elephants are treated quickly, only about a third of them survive.

“The epidemiology of the disease is still not clear,” said Bhaskar Choudhury, a veterinarian and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Group.

“The virus is shed intermittently by adults but with increasing frequency during stress periods, which is thought to be the source of infection for young calves,” he told AFP.

“IUCN is highly concerned with the mortality worldwide in captivity and more so in the wild.”

‘Ambassadors’ 

Asian elephants, which can live up to around 60 years old, are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, with only about 50,000 left in the wild. Deforestation, urban sprawl and agricultural development have robbed them of their natural habitat, while poaching and the illegal ivory trade also threaten many herds.

“The populations are declining almost everywhere,” Marty said, adding that for conservation reasons, “it is also really important to have good and healthy populations of Asian elephants in Europe”.

Zurich zoo, he said, has one of the world’s most modern elephant enclosures, and is intent on continuing with its mission to breed them.

He described the elephants in the park as “partners” in educating people about the problems wild elephants face. “Elephants here at the zoo have an important role as ambassadors for their own species,” he said.

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