‘Turning point’: Concerns grow over hospitals’ Covid capacities

Medical workers treat a patient with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit at the Geneva University Hospitals Keystone

Swiss hospitals could quickly reach their limits as the country experiences a steep rise in Covid-19 cases, warns Geneva virologist Isabella Eckerle. Cantons are now also calling for the government to step in with country-wide rules.

This content was published on October 16, 2020 - 15:23
Keystone-SDA/SRF/swissinfo.ch/ilj

The number of new coronavirus cases in Switzerland rose to more than 3,000 on Friday.

Eckerle's laboratory at Geneva University Hospitals is working almost around the clock, the virologist said in an interview with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper on Friday. The hospital still had enough test material, but the demand worldwide was high. The hospital might soon not be able to test everyone who needs a test, she said.

Meanwhile the hospital boss, Bertrand Levrat, told news agency AP that Europe was at a “turning point” in the fight against the coronavirus. “The virus doesn’t spread alone – we're the ones who spread it,” he said.

“If we don’t get a handle on this, we run the risk of getting into a situation that’s harder to control,” he said. “We are really at a turning point. Things can go both ways. Health services need to look for ways to keep up contact tracing (and) to succeed in getting a grasp on the chains of transmission.”

Friday’s developments

Meanwhile, cantons – who are currently in charge of managing the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a patchwork of measures across the country – have called on the Swiss government to impose nationwide rules to fight the spread of the virus. This includes the wearing of masks and working at home. Cantonal health chiefs issued their statement after meeting Health Minister Alain Berset.

Experts were also on hand during an official press conference on Friday afternoon to give an update on the situation, which the Federal Office of Public Health's Virginie Masserey called "serious". She said the government would react to the cantons in due course.

Rudolf Hauri, president of the cantonal doctors' association, added that everyone had been surprised by the speed of the rise in cases. He admitted there were some problems with contact tracing, saying it often needs time, "which you don't have when the virus is spreading quickly". But he said he was sure that hospitals were better prepared for coronavirus cases than they had been in spring.

Schwyz hotspot

The comments come as Schwyz Hospital sounded the alarm over the number of rising cases in the central Swiss canton – a cluster is thought to have come from a yodelling concert.

By Friday there were 1,352 confirmed cases of the virus in the canton compared with around 500 in mid-September. The rise has been particularly steep since Tuesday and the canton tops the list in terms of infections per inhabitants. “The proportion of positive tests is extremely high. We have moved from 30% to 50%,” said hospital director Franziska Föllmi on Thursday.

The hospital’s medical chief Reto Nüesch earlier released a YouTube video imploring the local population to wear masks and not to attend festive events. He said the explosion of cases in Schwyz was “one of the worst in the whole of Europe”.

A yodelling concert held at the end of September attended by 600 people is thought to have contributed to the rise. There was social distancing at the event – large events are now permitted in Switzerland – but mask wearing was not obligatory.

A record 3,105 new cases were reported across the country on Friday.

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