Swiss can overcome Covid crisis without another lockdown, says leading epidemiologist

Althaus, an epidemiologist at the University of Bern's Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine, believed shops could stay open throughout the winter with generalised mask-wearing. Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Mistakes, such as allowing public events to resume too quickly, likely contributed to the surge in coronavirus cases this autumn, said Christian Althaus, adding that the country can still bring the situation under control if it “acted now”.

This content was published on October 18, 2020 - 12:08

Althaus, a member of the national Covid-19 scientific taskforce, told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper “cantons had probably been too careless” with public events, after restrictions on gatherings of more than 300 people were eased last June.

“With a somewhat lower upper limit, we would certainly be in a better situation today,” he said. “The pathogen is now not only present in all corners of Switzerland, but it has also spread to all age groups.”

He also believed the authorities had not kept the population “more aware of the pandemic” during the summer.

“The emphasis was probably too much on personal responsibility.”

Infections have soared throughout the country in recent weeks – the daily number rose to over 1,000 in early October and reached a record 3,105 on Friday.

Continuing activities, but “on a smaller scale”

As the Federal Council met on Sunday to discuss possible stricter measures on a national scale, Althaus struck a note of optimism, saying generalised mask-wearing should allow the population, and particularly those in risk groups, to continue to participate in public life.

“We should be able to keep the shops open safely throughout the winter with masks,” he said. “I also believe that we must do everything we can to prevent school closures”.

Limiting private gatherings made sense, as “that way, you can do most activities, simply perhaps on a smaller scale.”

A recommendation to return to telework is “overdue”, the Bern-based epidemiologist said, adding that restaurants and bars may need to be closed for short periods “if the situation derails completely”.

Ultimately, Switzerland was in a good position to overcome the crisis thanks to its “economic resources, good medical care and strong science.”

“There is also a great willingness among the population to implement sensible measures so that we can get through this winter together.”

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