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COVID-19

Covid hotspots: ‘More hospitalisations’ predicted for Switzerland’s as cases increase

The epidemiological situation in Switzerland is not improving — the number of infections continues to be extremely high, though hospital admissions have remained relatively stable. However, that is likely to change soon, experts predict.

A nurse wheels a person in a hospital bed down a corridor
What is the current situation in Switzerland's hospitals? Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

The number of contaminations continues to soar, with 29,887 new cases reported on January 13th. Experts believe that most of these infections are due to the Omicron variant, which now accounts for 76 percent of cases in Switzerland.

The national infection rate now stands  at 3,592.52 per 100,000 people, over one thousand more than last week.

Most infections, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) have been detected in Valais (6,024.05 / 100,000), followed by Geneva (5,979.15), Jura (5,829.68), Graubünden (5,753.74), and Ticino (5,321.01).

Cases in Vaud (5,025.03), Fribourg (5,019.72), and Neuchâtel (4,555.58) also exceed the national average.

On the other hand, the situation is eastern, central and northern cantons has gotten better.

Southern and western cantons are most affected. Image: FOPH

Perhaps the best indicator of the extent of infections is that nearly 163,000 people are now in isolation in Switzerland, having tested positive for the virus.

READ MORE: Switzerland to cut quarantine period for vaccinated and extend current measures

Meanwhile, the situation in hospitals has improved slightly, with 267 coronavirus patients currently in intensive care units — down from 306 last week.

However, occupancy rates will likely go up, health officials say.

“It’s very possible that we will reach the peak of the wave within one to three weeks. The FOPH expects an increase in the number of hospitalisations in the coming days”, according to Tanja Stadler, president of the Covid-19 Task Force.

Virginie Masserey, head of FOPH’s infection control unit, reiterated that “there is a lag between the time of infections and the time of hospitalisation. It is often 14 days. It is during the next two weeks that we will begin to see the consequences” of the Omicron contagion, she pointed out.

If this forecast is realised, authorities would quickly implement additional restrictions

“Should the situation in hospitals deteriorate significantly, the Federal Council can still act swiftly by imposing stricter measures such as the closure of facilities and institutions or by limiting capacity at large-scale events,” the government said in a press release on Wednesday. 

What about deaths?

Like hospitalisations, death rates continue to decline — from 122 in the week starting on December 27th to 91 in the week beginning on January 3rd.

Fewer deaths have been recorded. Image: FOPH

FOPH attributes the relatively low numbers to vaccinations.

Death rates are lowest among fully vaccinated people. Image: FOPH

What’s ahead?

While it is difficult to accurately predict how the epidemiological situation will continue to evolve, a number of health experts have said the end of the pandemic may be near.

“We are perhaps on the brink of an important, even decisive, turning point, with the passage from a pandemic phase to an endemic phase”, said Health Minister Alain Berset.

He attributed this to “the immunity rate of the population which has now exceeded 90 percent in all age groups over 20 years old” because of vaccination or infection.

And according to Rudolf Hauri from the Conference of Cantonal Health Directors, “we will overcome most of the pandemic by the spring, as the baseline immunity will be high enough”.

READ MORE: Swiss government: Omicron may be ‘beginning of the end’ of pandemic

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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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