This week, 57,836 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Switzerland, down 3% from the 59,503 reported the week before. However, despite the new case rate stabilising, hospitalisations and deaths are elevated and have the government concerned.
On 17 December 2021, the Federal Council described the epidemiological situation as extremely worrying. The number of hospital admissions continues to rise and the occupancy of intensive care units (ICUs) is very high in some regions. Most of the patients are unvaccinated middle-aged and older people, said the government.
Compared to last winter, both the numbers of hospitalisations and death are lower. Current daily hospitalisation numbers on a 7-day average are around half of the peak level last winter and daily deaths around a third of last year’s peak.
However, even with lower rates of hospitalisation Swiss hospitals are strained. There are significantly fewer free ICU beds now (149) than at the narrowest point last winter (236). With so little reserve ICU capacity the system could quickly become overloaded. Fewer free ICU beds is driven by fewer overall ICU places. The total number has dropped from a peak of 1,506 in April 2020 to 859 today, a drop of 43%.
The critical threshold of 300 Covid ICU patients was reached on 13 December 2021, according to the government. Above this level, optimal care of all patients is no longer possible because it forces other treatments to be postponed. Based on current estimates, Covid ICU numbers are expected to reach between 350 and 400 by the end of the year, said the government.
The Omicron variant is an additional concern. According to initial findings, the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant. The protection afforded by vaccination or having previously had Covid-19 is likely to be significantly lower than with the Delta variant, said the Swiss government. Although it is still unclear how severe the course of the disease is after infection with the Omicron variant and how well those who have been vaccinated are protected against severe disease. However, if the number of people experiencing severe symptoms is high, this will place additional pressure on an already overstretched healthcare system within a very short time.
The unvaccinated continue to be disproportionately represented among hospitalised Covid patients. In Switzerland, the unvaccinated are dying at around 8 times the rate of the vaccinated.
Tighter measures aimed at reducing viral transmission will come into force in Switzerland on Monday 20 December 2021. These include restrictions on who can enter restaurants, the size of gatherings, mask requirements and the need to work from home.