It is still possible to fly to Switzerland from Brazil where a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 is circulating. This variant appears to be more contagious, more virulent and able to re-infect those who have had the original strain.
Studies in Brazil suggests the P1 variant is 2.2 to 2.5 times more contagious. If this turns out to be correct the varient will continue to gain ground, especially if it can infect those that have been infected with earlier variants as data from the amazonian city of Manaus suggest.
Recent data also suggest the P1 variant could be more virulent. The number of people under 40 in intensive care units in Brazil with Covid-19 rose to more than 11,000 in March, reaching 52.2% of all ICU patients, according to the Brazilian Association of Intensive Medicine, reported the Medical Express.
Several drivers appear to be behind rising proportion of younger ICU patients in Brazil. One is progress in the vaccination of older more at-risk people. However, higher virulence of the new variant could be another possible factor.
In addition, how much protection current vaccines provide against this new variant remains an open question. Research suggests the variants circulating in Brazil have mutations in the spike region of the virus used to enter and infect cells. Those changes could make the virus more resistant to vaccines that target the spike protein, reported Reuters.
Portugal, the UK and France have all cut air links with Brazil. However, Switzerland has decided to maintain them, according to RTS.
Brazil is on Switzerland’s list of high risk nations, alongside another 50 countries. People arriving from these countries must present a recent negative test result on arrival and quarantine for 10 days. Another negative test once in Switzerland can cut quarantine time to 7 days.
According to RTS, 13 cases of the Brazilian variant have been detected in Switzerland, far fewer than in some other European countries. For example, 2.6% of Covid-19 cases in neighbouring Italy are people infected with the Brazilian P1 variant.
The current testing and quarantine measures seem to have been sufficient to avoid the rapid spread of this virus, which represents only a tiny minority of cases, according to Virginie Masserey, the head of infectious disease control at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health. But we must remain constantly vigilant, she said.