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Covid-19: What will summer 2022 look like in Switzerland?

While uncertainties about the evolution of the Omicron variant still remain, improvement on the epidemiological front is on the horizon, a Swiss health expert says.

Health experts predict a more carefree summer ahead. Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels
Health experts predict a more carefree summer ahead. Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

Even though the Omicron variant is still very active in Switzerland, health officials believe that Covid pandemic is winding down.

Marcel Tanner, an epidemiologist at University of Basel, said in an interview on Sunday that the situation should stabilise in the summer to the point where some measures “may be necessary only occasionally”.

“If people comply with the measures on their own in certain situations, state health restrictions could be lifted”, he added.

Generalised rules such face masks and the Covid certificate mandate will no longer be necessary in the summer “if we continue to get vaccinated and get booster doses”, according to Tanner.

“All epidemics have shown this so far”, he pointed out in support of his forecast.

Health Minister Alain Berset also said that the need for the Covid certificate “seems to be approaching its end”.

READ MORE: Should Switzerland abolish the Covid certificate?

And Virginie Masserey, head of the infection control section at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), noted as well that “we can be reasonably optimistic” that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

Such uplifting prospects may seem unrealistic at the moment, given that nearly 40,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in Switzerland on Friday, January 21st —most Covid infections ever recorded in a single day.

Add to it the undeclared and asymptomatic cases, and the actual number of daily contaminations could  be closer to 100,000, according to Jürg Utzinger, director of the Tropical and Public Health Institute.

So why are health experts fairly optimistic that the pandemic will mostly wane by summer?

They say that while Omicron — which currently accounts for nearly 88 percent of all infections in Switzerland — is still circulating in Switzerland, it is also less virulent than its predecessors Delta and Alpha, especially among the vaccinated population.

With more people contracting Omicron, the level of immunity is growing within the population, signalling the pandemic’s end.

The proof epidemiologists cite is that Switzerland’s healthcare system is holding up relatively well, with fewer Covid patients requiring hospitalisation in ICUs than several weeks ago.

This means that most people infected with Omicron don’t develop severe symptoms and don’t need to be hospitalised.

In fact, a survey conducted by Blick newspaper among hospitals found that virtually all patients admitted to Swiss healthcare facilities have contracted the Delta variant which, though less prevalent than Omicron, is still spreading in Switzerland among the unvaccinated and has more serious side effects.

At Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG), only two out of 19 Covid patients have Omicron. And the chief physician of the University Hospital of Zurich said that “there are hardly any traces of Omicron in the intensive care unit”.

In Zurich’s two other hospitals, Tremli and Stadspital Waid, none of the seven Covid cases has Omicron.

As for Bern’s Inselspital, “a significant proportion of intensive care patients have been affected by the Delta variant”, spokesperson told Blick.

This provides additional evidence to support the health officials’ contention that Omicron is not as virulent as Delta.

As a matter of fact, many experts believe that while this variant will never completely disappear, it will become a part of the existing viruses, as common as a common cold.

READ MORE: ‘Reasonably optimistic’: Are Switzerland’s Covid hotspots cooling down at last?

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.