Omicron could “change course of pandemic”

Patrick Mathys, crisis manager at the Federal Office of Public Health, speaking to the media with other health officials. Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Swiss health officials have warned that the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, could pose a worrying new health risk as the pandemic continues into next year.

This content was published on November 29, 2021 - 16:55

Although data on the variant, which has a greater number of mutations than normal, is still thin on the ground, Switzerland is on high alert about its possible effects.

“Omicron has significant potential to shape the future course of the pandemic. It darkens prospects for the coming weeks and months,” Patrick Mathys, head of crisis management at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), told reporters on Monday.

So far, Switzerland has detected one possible case of Omicron within its borders, but confirmation is not expected until Tuesday at the earliest.

Last week, Switzerland banned direct flights to southern Africa, where the variant was first detected. It has also imposed quarantine restrictions on travelers from other countries where people have been infected with Omicron.

The Delta strain of the virus is expected to remain dominant until Christmas, according to Anne Lévy, FOPH Director. She is wary of both Delta and Omicron strains becoming widespread together by early next year. “We must succeed in breaking the current fifth wave before another virus variant [takes hold]," Lévy said.

Switzerland recorded a further 19,402 coronavirus infections over the weekend and the rate has been doubling every other week. But the rate of fatalities has remained steady.

Vote endorses government

Despite Swiss voters on Sunday endorsing the government’s powers to tackle the pandemic, no new measures have yet been introduced in Switzerland beyond border restrictions.

But anyone infected with Omicron would have to go into isolation and quarantine for those who were in contact with the carrier, Lévy said.

The health officials on Monday once again urged people to get vaccinated or receive a booster jab. At present, less than 70% of the population has been double jabbed.

The experts could offer no clues about whether traditional Christmas markets or other gatherings would be affected by the new wave of the pandemic. But they urged people to restrict contact with others as much as possible.

On Monday, a student winter games event, due to be staged in Switzerland next month, was forced to cancel because of the new travel restrictions.

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