Researchers at the University of Bern estimate that Covid-19 could have killed between 8,038 and 9,453 people in Switzerland if lockdown had come a week later, far more than the 1,980 deaths recorded so far.
Switzerland’s federal government was slow to take the threat posed by the virus seriously. On 24 February 2020, Daniel Koch, the head of communicable diseases at the Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), announced publicly that the mortality rate of SARS-CoV-2 seems to be fairly similar to the seasonal flu, before adding that there was uncertainty around the estimation. In an internal memo of the same date, Koch wrote that the virus is not going to spread as easily as the flu. Both of these statements contrasted starkly with other information available at the time.
Switzerland reported its first confirmed case of SARS-CoV-2 infection on 25 February 2020 in the canton of Ticino, which borders the Italian region of Lombardy, a region hit badly by the virus. In the days that followed, additional cases were reported in several cantons leading to the rapid spread of the virus across Switzerland. Switzerland’s federal government quickly changed its tune.
Starting on 28 February 2020, it mandated a number of non-pharmaceutical interventions that included closing primary schools, non-essential shops and restaurants. The measures culminated on 20 March 2020 with the prohibition of gatherings of more than five people, which was considered lockdown. These measures eventually slowed the spread of the virus.
The model estimates a starting reproduction rate of 2.61, which was then reduced to 0.64 by the lockdown measures.
In addition, the model estimates that close to 1,600 lives could have been saved if lockdown had been implemented on 13 March 2020.
The authors of the research claim a major strength of their modelling is that it relies on publicly available historical data on the number of hospitalised cases, intensive care unit occupancy and deaths.
Research paper (in English)