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Coronavirus divides the country — Switzerland discusses the “kiss of death” — today

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Switzer­land has a coro­na prob­lem. The num­ber of cas­es may seem small com­pared to the num­bers one is used to from Ger­many. But the health sys­tem is reach­ing its lim­its. The search for caus­es is what dri­ves the media. And the ques­tion: Why are the region­al dif­fer­ences so great? There are pic­tures that have burned them­selves into pub­lic mem­o­ry in the past Coro­na months. For exam­ple the green army trucks that haul away bod­ies in Berg­amo, Italy. Or the long lines of cars in front of dri­ve-in test sta­tions in the USA. There are also fig­ures that almost any­one who has been hit by the news can recite: the crit­i­cal mark of 50 new infec­tions per 100,000 inhab­i­tants with­in sev­en days, for exam­ple. Or the mod­el cal­cu­la­tion by Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel, which was a fore­taste of the than 20,000 new cas­es in Ger­many every day. But when there is talk of crit­i­cal val­ues ​​and par­tic­u­lar­ly affect­ed regions, one coun­try hard­ly ever appears in the inter­na­tion­al debate: Switzer­land. But that could change now. On the one hand, this is due to a dra­mat­ic state­ment and, on the oth­er hand, an extra­or­di­nary dis­tri­b­u­tion of the num­ber of cas­es.

Request for advance direc­tives All Swiss inten­sive care beds occu­pied

One after the oth­er: At the begin­ning of the week, the Swiss Soci­ety for Inten­sive Care Med­i­cine announced that all inten­sive care beds across the coun­try were occu­pied. Above all, one dra­mat­ic sen­tence makes you sit up and take notice: “All — espe­cial­ly those who are par­tic­u­lar­ly at risk from the new coro­n­avirus — are asked to give an advance direc­tive to con­sid­er whether they would like to receive life-pro­long­ing mea­sures in the event of a seri­ous ill­ness Not.” So this is what it sounds like when there is no longer any hope of avoid­ing over­load­ing the health sys­tem. Cur­rent­ly (as of Novem­ber 20th) 536 Covid-19 patients are being treat­ed in inten­sive care in Switzer­land. That is a lit­tle more than a week ago (490). Togeth­er oth­er inten­sive care patients, almost all beds required are con­sid­ered occu­pied. For com­par­i­son: In Ger­many there are cur­rent­ly 3,621 peo­ple in inten­sive care — that is, almost sev­en times as many. But while Switzer­land has just under 8.6 mil­lion inhab­i­tants, Ger­many has a good 83 mil­lion peo­ple.

The virus stops at bor­ders

Because of the wors­en­ing coro­na sit­u­a­tion, the Swiss gov­ern­ment wants to expand mil­i­tary sup­port for over­bur­dened clin­ics, the AFP news agency report­ed a few days ago. Defense Min­is­ter Vio­la Amherd said sol­diers could sup­port the clin­ics logis­ti­cal­ly and in track­ing con­tacts until the end of March next year. The can­ton of Gene­va, hard­est hit by the pan­dem­ic, request­ed addi­tion­al sup­port for the hos­pi­tals. So the sit­u­a­tion is seri­ous. The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO) now ranks Switzer­land among the most severe­ly affect­ed coun­tries on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent. In the past 24 hours, 4,946 peo­ple have been shown to be infect­ed with the Sars-CoV­‑2 pathogen. This means that 290,601 coro­n­avirus cas­es have been reg­is­tered in the coun­try so far. The sev­en-day inci­dence, i.e. the num­ber of cas­es from the past sev­en days per 100,000 inhab­i­tants, is 351.21 accord­ing to ntv.de cal­cu­la­tion. For com­par­i­son: Accord­ing to the Robert Koch Insti­tute, the sev­en-day inci­dence in Ger­many is cur­rent­ly 139.0. Switzer­land has a total of 3,575 deaths, with 119 deaths added recent­ly.

The list­ing of these val­ues ​​alone gives a rel­a­tive­ly shock­ing pic­ture. But what is extra­or­di­nary — and thus the sec­ond point why Switzer­land is increas­ing­ly mak­ing head­lines — are the clear region­al dif­fer­ences in the Coro­na dis­tri­b­u­tion. They are so seri­ous and polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant that both domes­tic and for­eign media are spec­u­lat­ing about why the virus appar­ent­ly stops at (can­ton­al) bor­ders. As the week­ly news­pa­per “Die Zeit” shows, it is main­ly the French-speak­ing regions, known as French-speak­ing Switzer­land, that have to strug­gle with high num­bers of infec­tions. The east­ern can­tons, in which Ger­man, Ital­ian or — occa­sion­al­ly — Romansh is spo­ken, are get­ting through the cri­sis rel­a­tive­ly bet­ter. Accord­ing to “Zeit” there have been 1,300 proven infec­tions per 100,000 inhab­i­tants in the can­ton of Basel-Land­schaft since the begin­ning of June. In French-speak­ing Gene­va, how­ev­er, there are 6,000.

The “kiss of fac­tor”

Accord­ing to this, it was already appar­ent in the spring that there were dis­so­nances along the lan­guage bor­ders. Accord­ing to the report, four times as many peo­ple died with a coro­na infec­tion in French-speak­ing Switzer­land than in Ger­man-speak­ing Switzer­land. So far, there is no clear rea­son why this could be. When research­ing the cause, “Die Zeit” lists var­i­ous fac­tors: for exam­ple, the geo­graph­i­cal prox­im­i­ty to the pan­dem­ic epi­cen­ter of north­ern Italy at the time and the con­tain­ment mea­sures that were adopt­ed late based on the absolute num­ber of cas­es. But in what is now the sec­ond , with Jura, Wal­lis and Freiburg, fran­coph­o­ne regions would also stand out, in which an inner-can­ton­al coro­na rift is emerg­ing, as “Die Zeit” writes. It runs exact­ly along the lan­guage bor­der and also shows a high­er case inci­dence for the French-speak­ing area. This is aston­ish­ing in that, in rela­tion to the whole of Switzer­land, sim­i­lar rules apply every­where to con­tain the virus. The epi­demi­ol­o­gist from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bern, Chris­t­ian Althaus, inter­viewed by the news­pa­per, is quot­ed as say­ing that the way peo­ple behave at a meet­ing is par­tic­u­lar­ly deci­sive for the infec­tion process. It is about the ques­tions of how many peo­ple see each oth­er, which gen­er­a­tions are unit­ed, how close the par­tic­i­pants get and what is con­sumed at the meet­ing. Accord­ing­ly, the geo­graph­i­cal prox­im­i­ty to France, where there has been a dras­tic increase in the num­ber of cas­es since the end of Sep­tem­ber, hard­ly played a role in the sec­ond . “Assump­tions in this direc­tion seem to me to be more of a typ­i­cal Swiss reflex to look for the caus­es of prob­lems abroad,” said Althaus.

And there is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, seem­ing­ly banal expla­na­tion: the “kiss of death fac­tor”. In an inter­view with the Swiss news­pa­per “Tages-Anzeiger”, the for­mer Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty Pres­i­dent and cur­rent hote­lier Peter Boden­mann pre­sent­ed an idio­syn­crat­ic for­mu­la: “The kiss of death fac­tor results from the num­ber of con­tacts divid­ed by the aver­age prox­im­i­ty per con­tact.” Accord­ing­ly, more kiss­es are exchanged when greet­ing and say­ing good­bye in west­ern Switzer­land — a behav­ior that is known to increase the risk of infec­tion (key­word: droplets and aerosols).

The Swiss way

Can it real­ly be that easy? Prob­a­bly not. Fac­tors such as the spe­cif­ic mea­sures on site, the socio-eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of the peo­ple (liv­ing sit­u­a­tion or work­place) and of course the will and the abil­i­ty of each indi­vid­ual to adhere to the rules are also con­ceiv­able. The “Tages-Anzeiger” also sees a decreas­ing fear of the virus and a “pro­nounced west­ern Swiss par­ty cul­ture”, which could have led to an esca­la­tion in the num­ber of cas­es. These expla­na­tions and above all Boden­man­n’s “kiss of death fac­tor” caused out­rage among the peo­ple in French-speak­ing Switzer­land. It is well known that sim­i­lar accu­sa­tions from state to state have not worked in Ger­many in the past — although there are coun­ties in the north and east that have a less dynam­ic infec­tion rate com­pared to the rest of the repub­lic. It is incon­ceiv­able that one would gen­er­al­ly accuse the warm Rhinelanders of mis­con­duct and deny that the cool styl­ized North Ger­mans any form of socia­bil­i­ty.

In any case, despite the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the Swiss gov­ern­ment sees no option in a hard lock­down. Although there are rules such as the clos­ing of restau­rants and bars after 11 p.m. and a mask require­ment in cer­tain places, in Ger­many the mea­sures adopt­ed and espe­cial­ly the con­tact restric­tions are much stricter. In this con­text, the Swiss media also speak of the Swiss way, which relies above all on the com­mon sense and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty of the con­fed­er­ates.

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