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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 more 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 people — 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 with the other intensive care patients, almost all beds required are considered occupied. For comparison: In Germany there are currently 3,621 infected 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 death 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 wave, 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 wave. “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.