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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

‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?

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