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COVID-19

REVEALED: Why Covid rates in some Swiss cantons are ‘five times’ higher

Infection rates in several smaller, German-speaking cantons are five times higher than those in Ticino. Why?

A Covid test centre
Covid case rates are much higher in some Swiss cantons than in others. Why is this? Christof STACHE / AFP

New analysis by Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper shows which factors are the most important in determining a canton’s infection rates. 

The analysis, published on November 30th and taking into account infection data across the previous two weeks, sought to get to the bottom of why some Swiss cantons had confirmed case levels five times higher than those in other cantons. 

The analysis, which is available here (in German), took into account seven different factors including voting behaviour, vaccination rates and population density. 

KEY POINTS: What are the new Covid travel rules between Switzerland and the UK?

The authors found that only two factors truly showed a meaningful correlation, while the others seemingly had a negligible influence on infection rates. 

Infection rates five times higher in some cantons

According to the authors, the starting point for the piece was the significant differences in infection rates from canton to canton. 

Covid measures, testing policy, healthcare quality and access to vaccination is roughly similar in each of Switzerland’s 26 cantons. 

Over the period surveyed, there were 378 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the southern canton of Ticino. 

In the smaller, central cantons however, cases per 100,000 inhabitants was as high as 1,817 (Appenzell Ausserrhoden) – almost five times higher than in Ticino – along with 1,752 (Schwyz), Nidwalden (1,723) and Appenzell Innerhoden (1,596). 

While Ticino had by far the lowest number of infections, lower case rates were also recorded per 100,000 people in Neuchâtel (560) and Vaud (582). 

‘Critical situation’: Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspots

The following map shows case rates in Switzerland and collaborates the findings from the NZZ. 

Please note that while the trends are largely similar, the map relates to November 14th to 29th, whereas the NZZ’s analysis runs from November 11th to 25th. 

What factors determine a canton’s case rate? 

In wanting to explain the differences, the NZZ said they boiled down seven factors which could influence a canton’s infection rates. 

These factors are: vaccination rate, mobility, immunity rate (through recovery), geographic location, population density, political preferences and education level. 

The authors acknowledged that this was not an exclusive list of every relevant factor underpinning a canton’s case rates, but hoped the criteria would account for as many relevant factors as could be considered. 

Of these seven factors, only two played a more than negligible role in a canton’s infection rate. 

Reader question: Does a booster shot extend the validity of Switzerland’s Covid certificate?

Political leanings

The first, which accounted for 62 percent of the differences between cantons, was the amount of Swiss People’s Party (SVP) voters a region had. 

The SVP, which is described as either right-wing or far-right by most political analysis, is most popular in smaller, German-speaking parts of the country. 

The authors pointed to several studies, including one by Swiss research agency Sotomo, which showed that SVP voters were much less willing to vaccinate than voters from other political parties. 

The SVP was the only mainstream political party to support a vote against Switzerland’s Covid measures including the Covid certificate in November’s referendum.  

The only two cantons to vote against the Covid measures at the referendum were Schwyz and Appenzell Innerhoden, which have some of the country’s highest case rates. 

Ueli Maurer, a two-time President of Switzerland who is a member of right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), was photographed at an SVP event in September wearing the Freiheitstrychler shirt.

Freiheitstrychler (“freedom bell ringers”) on the other hand, is an offshoot, militant group of the traditional ringers, who have been voicing their disagreement with the government’s anti-Covid measures.

Freiheitstrychler: Who are Switzerland’s ‘freedom bell ringers’?

Vaccination rate

The only other factor to make a significant difference is vaccination rate. 

The authors found vaccination rate explained 36 percent of the differences between cantonal infection rates. 

The study showed that an increase in the cantonal vaccination rate by one percentage point resulted in a decline in case numbers by 63 per 100,000 inhabitants. 

Other research has shown that although people who are vaccinated can still spread the virus, the unvaccinated are three times more contagious than the vaccinated, showing how effective the vaccines are at stopping the spread. 

Swiss Covid Task Force: Unvaccinated are three times more contagious

What does this mean for Switzerland? 

The authors speculated on why certain factors were important and why others weren’t. 

For instance, they noted that a similar analysis performed in September showed a higher correlation between vaccination and lower infection rates. 

They said this may illustrate the decline in the long-term protection offered by the current vaccines – and a need for Switzerland to speed up its booster campaign. 

On the other hand, the apparent lack of impact of Covid immunity through prior infection on case rates shows that vaccinations play a key role in preventing the spread of the virus. 

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COVID-19

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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