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Swiss health officials call for more Covid-19 testing

The Federal Office of Public Health's Virginie Masserey holds us testing campaign posters at the press conference on Friday Keystone / Anthony Anex

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases is falling in Switzerland, but so is the number of people being tested. The health authorities have sounded the alarm. A new testing information campaign will start on Sunday.

This content was published on November 20, 2020 - 15:51
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“We must detect as many cases as possible, that’s why tests are so important,” said senior health official Virginie Masserey at a press conference in Bern.

Coronavirus infections rose by 4,946 in a day, Swiss health authorities said on Friday. The death toll rose by 111 and there were 252 new hospitalisations. The number of cases was down from 5,007 on Thursday, and a high of over 10,000 cases in early November.

Testing is key in this phase of the pandemic in particular. “The cantonal track and trace services are overloaded,” Masserey said.

The campaign to encourage more testing will be run by the Federal Office of Public Health but has the support of various medical associations.

Masserey said there were enough tests available. Anyone with symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, fever and a loss of taste and smell should get tested straightaway, she added.

Mortality

The stabilisation of the situation and the drop in cases are due to the measures taken in Switzerland – unlike neighbouring countries, it has opted for a slowdown rather than a lockdown.

But the number of hospitalisations and patients in intensive care were still very high, Masserey warned. The drop in confirmed cases could mean eventual improvements in hospital numbers as well - even if this is not seen for several weeks. “The daily number of deaths is still at a very high level,” she said. “It’s a very serious illness.”

Switzerland has many cases, which is why the death rate is so high, she explained. There has been a lot of debate over the past days about why Switzerland has such as high mortality rate internationally.

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The death rate has increased for the over 65s in particular: between 2-8 November there were 1,702 deaths in this age group, 566 more than the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) expected, Swiss public television SRF has reported.

There seems to be similar excess mortality (number of deaths from all causes during a crisis beyond “normal” conditions) for both coronavirus waves, said Christoph Junker, from the FSO. There is no indication that the virus has become more deadly since spring, he added.

But there are some differences: in the first spring wave, excess mortality affected Italian-speaking Ticino highly; in this wave, it’s in the French-speaking part of the country. At Friday’s press conference, Masserey said she could offer no explanation for this difference across the country.

Meanwhile SRF has released a graphic showing how the two waves have affected Switzerland. The colour changes in the cantons are based on the seven-day average per 100,000 of newly reported positive corona cases in respective cantons.

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