Reproduction rate just above stable, says Covid-19 taskforce head

Ackermann, a professor of microbiology at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Keystone / Anthony Anex

There is currently “no alternative” to the strategy of social distancing, testing, and contact tracing, says the head of the scientific task force that advises federal policy on Covid-19.

This content was published on September 20, 2020 - 13:37
swissinfo.ch/NZZ am Sonntag/dos

In an interview with the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, Martin Ackermann said the Swiss strategy is “working well”, despite rising cases in recent weeks.

Daily positive tests have several times climbed above 500, and the average infection rate per 100,000 citizens has exceeded the limit that Switzerland uses to determine whether a foreign country should be placed on its travel “risk” list.

However, Ackermann said that the r-rate of transmission is still low. For every 10 positive patients, a further eleven are infected. “Simply put, this is just one too many,” he said. “If it was brought down to ten, the r-rate would be one, and the situation stable.”

He praised the decentralised cantonal approach, describing it as “going at Covid-19 with a scalpel” instead of the “axe” of a national lockdown, as happened last March.

In order for this to keep working, however, especially into winter, he said resources need to be ensured both for contact tracing and for testing. If numbers of staff or tests are compromised, then “the system breaks down.”

According to the NZZ am Sonntag, some 12,000 tests are currently carried out daily in the country. Between 30,000 and 35,000 are planned in the medium-term, a number that could rise to 50,000, the newspaper says, citing a federal source.

With global demand for tests high – something Ackermann acknowledged – this raises the question of shortages in the coming weeks and months, the newspaper wrote. It quoted a federal health office spokesman as saying that authorities are currently working to boost capacities, but that shortages could not be ruled out.

Ackermann, who took over at the head of the taskforce in August, also maintained that the social and economic costs of a herd immunity strategy would be “much too high”.

Besides, he said, such a strategy would rely on a still-unknown factor: how long a patient remains immune after contracting the virus.

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