'Highly likely' that variant Covid virus has reached Switzerland, say officials

Many of the recently arrived British tourists are thought to be headed for the ski slopes. Keystone / Valentin Flauraud

Some of the 10,000 British holidaymakers who travelled to Switzerland in the last week are almost certainly carrying the new Covid-19 variant, a government official said on Tuesday.

This content was published on December 22, 2020 - 16:25

Tanja Stadler, a member of the National Covid-19 Science Task Force, told a press conference that although no cases had so far been officially detected, it was nevertheless “obvious” that some passengers on the 92 flights were infected.

Stadler later told Swiss public broadcaster SRF that its was statistically "highly likely" that some arrivals to Switzerland were carrying the mutated virus. Patrick Mathys of the Federal Office of Public Health has also said the strain is "probably" in Switzerland.

However, officials say there is no reason to panic as there is no evidence that the new strain is any more deadly.

The Swiss authorities said they had contacted nearly all the people who had arrived from Britain and South Africa - which has also detected a mutated form of the virus - since December 14. All these arrivals will be required to go into a ten-day quarantine. All flights from both countries were halted on Monday and a general entry ban was imposed for travellers from both countries.

Very few of the British and South African travellers have so far been tested since arriving in Switzerland although many had come forward after being contacted by the authorities, the press conference heard.

Switzerland has also persuaded telecommunication companies to send SMS messages to all holders of UK and South African SIM cards who are currently in Switzerland. In this way, all arrivals can be contacted even if the airline has no contact address.

Many of the arrivals are assumed to be travelling to ski resorts, such as Verbier in French-speaking Switzerland. While some ski areas have been closed down in the country, others are determined to stay open.

Stadler said that scientists are still assessing the new Covid-19 variant. The evidence so far points to it being no more deadly than the previous strain, but it does appear to be more easily transmitted.

Swiss citizens visiting Britain or South Africa have been urged to register their trips and stays on the mobile phone app “Travel Admin”External link. There are no plans to arrange repatriation flights as in the spring.

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