At least 613 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Switzerland. But the epidemic is more widespread than the official count reveals.
The Swiss government is abandoning efforts to keep a close count of coronavirus cases to focus instead on easing the burden on the healthcare system and protecting those most at risk of dying such as the elderly.
“The government has decided that they will only test people who are at risk, who have strong symptoms,” said Michael Hengartner, president of the ETH Board. “Young people, who might have weak symptoms, will simply be asked to stay at home to minimize contagion.”
The Cantonal Hospital of Lucerne has received a recommendation from the government to limit testing to the most vulnerable or severe cases, said spokesman Markus von Rotz.
“Only patients who are hospitalized and health care staff will be tested for coronavirus,” said Claude Kaufmann, a spokesman for Hirslanden Private Hospital Group, which operates 17 hospitals. “Patients with fever and cough must stay at home so that they do not infect anyone.”
The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health confirmed that the cases could be far higher than reported and that “people at especially high risk are tested as a priority."
No test, no infection
This marks a change in strategy from the early days of the outbreak, when the government ramped up testing following the first confirmed case on Feb. 25. Back then, even mild cases were being counted and traced in the effort to contain the crisis. Many people have been keeping tabs on the daily tally from the federal health office, relying on it to provide a measure of the severity of the situation in Switzerland.
The country reported its third coronavirus death Tuesday as the outbreak worsens in neighboring Italy, where more than 10,000 people have been infected and at least 630 have died.
The Swiss government said at a press conference Wednesday it had changed tactic over the weekend. "We have moved away from identifying the transmission chain of every infected person," said Patrick Mathys, head of crisis management at the health office.
Large events have been banned across the country but, unlike in Italy, no blanket travel restrictions have been imposed. And the Swiss border remains open to commuters from Italy.
“With the infection rate that this virus has, it will basically cross across the human population,” Hengartner said. “It will become a pandemic. And the challenge for governments is to keep the infection rate low enough that we can always manage the patients that need to get hospitalized.”