Covid-19: Leading expert assures Geneva ‘under control’

Pittet is director of the infection control programme at Geneva University Hospital and closely involved in the WHO Clean Care is Safer Care campaign. Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi

Despite the immediate closure of all nightclubs following a spike in coronavirus cases linked to the establishments, Didier Pittet, head of infection prevention at Geneva’s University Hospital, said the situation was under control.

This content was published on August 3, 2020 - 18:49
Paula Dupraz-Dobias in Geneva

While Geneva recorded a sharp rise in cases during the last week of July, Pittet, one of the country’s leading specialists in infectious diseases said the canton was among those “where screening is most active”.

Pittet was speaking on Monday at an online news conference with the Association of Accredited Correspondents at the United Nations (ACANU) in Geneva.

“It is not considered to be a hotspot,” he added. “It is certainly under control.”

Geneva, which has been to date the second hardest hit canton in total number of cases of Covid-19 after neighbouring Vaud, reported 235 confirmed active cases during the week ending 30 July, an increase from 87 confirmed cases the previous week.

Zurich, the canton with the second highest number of active cases, recorded 150 cases the last week of July, when Switzerland had a total of 820 active cases.

Pittet said that 40% of cases in Geneva were linked to discotheques and bars, 25%-30% to transmission within families and approximately a quarter to infection that had originated outside of Switzerland. Nearly half of newly confirmed cases are among young people and adults.

“When you have good epidemiological evidence, you can know where cases are coming from,” he said.

Holidays abroad

Following the closure of the nightclubs, Pittet expected such data to shift as people return from holidays abroad.

“Autumn will not be easy,” the professor said, given an expected rise in other respiratory syndromes, including the seasonal flu. Certain social and economic activities, for instance religious gatherings or work done in small, closed quarters, may have to suspended to avoid a return to tighter confinement conditions, he said.

But while some international public health experts, drug executives and politicians have expressed the possibility of having a vaccine against the virus in the final months of 2020, Pittet was much more cautious.

“There is no chance to have a vaccine before the end of the year. Maybe, if we are lucky there may be a vaccine available by spring,” Pittet said.

Last week, Russia announced it would start a mass coronavirus vaccine campaign in October, while  the authorities in the United States and pharmaceutical executives predicted vaccines may come that month.

Vaccine

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said that he was “cautiously optimistic” that a clinical trial underway will lead to an effective vaccine.

Christian Baumann of the University of Bern for his part spoke of vaccinating the Swiss population in October. 

And for Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset one thing is certain.

“The Swiss population should have the fastest possible access to a safe, effective vaccine. But we also know there’s a big, global discussion going on, and need will be huge worldwide. All countries should have fair access to a vaccine.”

“Until everyone may benefit from the vaccine, it will take another 18 months or even two years,” Pittet cautioned. “It is unfair to say but there will be places that will be covered quicker than others.”

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