On 24 November 2021, Switzerland’s Federal Council announced no tightening of Covid measures in the face of rising cases.
On Wednesday, 8,585 new cases were reported in Switzerland, a figure 35% higher than the day before. The rapid rise in Covid-19 cases in Switzerland mirrors similar trends in neighbouring Austria and Germany where cases have been rising steeply since the end of October 2021. Cases have risen more than 5-fold in all three nations over recent weeks.
In the UK, another nation with high case numbers that has decided like Switzerland not to tighten measures, cases are not currently rising as steeply. There, case numbers climbed steeply in mid July 2021 and have not gone beyond that peak since. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland case numbers only really started to take off in November and show no signs of peaking.
Both Germany and Austria have significantly tightened measures. From Thursday, Germany is introducing measures to reduce contact based on regional levels of hospitalisation, reported deutschland.de. In Bavaria strict contact restrictions were applied to unvaccinated people from Wednesday. A maximum of five people from different households are allowed to meet unless they are under 12 or vaccinated. All clubs, discos and bars have been closed for three weeks and Christmas markets have been cancelled. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that it’s time to act to stop the exponential rise in cases.
Austria imposed a temporary lockdown on 22 November 2021, which lasts until 13 December 2021. The country is currently closed to tourists.
However, Switzerland’s federal government has announced no additional measures, leaving any decisions on the tightening of restrictions to cantonal governments. At the same time Alain Berset, Switzerland’s health minister, recognised that the situation had worsened, that current variants were much more contagious than last winter’s and that the level of vaccination in Switzerland was therefore insufficient to prevent cases rising.
Currently, much of the focus is on hospitals. In Switzerland, hospitals are 84% full with 4% occupied by Covid patients. Intensive care units are 80% full with 20% occupied by Covid patients. Theses percentages have been rising gradually in Switzerland since the end of October 2021. At the same time, the current pressure on hospitals is lower than it was last year and there is currently sufficient ICU capacity, said Alain Berset, a situation that does not call for additional measures.
Immunity, mainly from vaccination, appears to have weakened the link between case numbers and hospitalisation and death, especially in places with high vaccination rates. The ratio of deaths to cases in Switzerland is around one eighth of what it was last winter.
However, there is a risk that higher cases numbers lead to increased numbers of vulnerable people becoming infected, so we must remain cautious, said Berset.
Levels of vaccination, infection and death range significantly across Switzerland. More rural cantons in central and eastern Switzerland currently have the highest levels of infection and death. Nidwalden, Obwalden and the two Appenzells have infection rates around double Switzerland’s average. While Glaris and Appenzell Innerrhoden have had Covid death rates around 5 times the national average over the last 28 days. A number of cantons in this part of Switzerland have vaccination rates under 60%, below the national average of 67%. Berset highlighted these differences and stressed the link between low rates of vaccination and high rates of infection. These wide cantonal differences are why the Federal Council is requesting cantons to take the lead, explained the minister.