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The Swiss government surprised everyone yesterday by lifting the quarantine on international travel to Switzerland, only a week after introducing a “red list” of countries at risk. What happened?

I wish I could be a fly on the wall of yesterday’s meeting. What evidence did they find? What concerns did they mitigate? Why did they change their mind so quickly? I don’t have any friend who attended and I could not find any report on the debate, but I can imagine a few healthy discussions ?

? What does the WHO say about travel restrictions? “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”. Except if you’re on an island and can live in isolation until the end of Covid, the virus will spread and the best measures are sanitary measures (masks, distance…) and vaccines (see below)

? What’s the concern with Omicron? WHO keeps track of all variants of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) since December 2019. The most significant variants, called “Variants of Concern (VOC)”, may change the transmissibility or the virulence of the virus. Omicron is the 5th VOC, and the previous one was the famous Delta.

? What is the status of Covid cases in Switzerland? While the number of cases is at his peak, as high as in November 2020, approaching 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the number of hospitalisation does not follow the same trend and remains below 0.5 per 100,000 inhabitants.

? What is the effectiveness of the vaccine? According to Swiss data, the daily hospitalisation for Covid over last 7 days included about 40 non-vaccinated and 20 vaccinated people, for 66% of the population fully vaccinated. In other terms, the non-vaccinated population (one third of close to 9m inhabitants) has a risk of 40/3=13.3 per million and the vaccinated population has 20/6=3.3 per million. A rough measure of the effectiveness of the vaccine on flattening the curve of hospitalisation is 13.3/3.3=4. I estimate the vaccine to reduce by 4 the risk of hospitalisation – on average for a population of 9 million.

? Will there be another variant of concern after Omicron and Delta? Likely yes. The transmission of the virus creates variations. As long as major parts of the world don’t have access to vaccines, the virus will keep evolving.

? Will we have to live with Covid? Likely yes. Covid will either end up like the 2003 SARS outbreak or 2014 MERS outbreak, or carry on like the seasonal flue. In the latter case, we’re fine. Otherwise we need to learn to live with Covid and related sanitary measures, without impacting people’s lives and businesses.

? Do we have a model to simulate the impact of travel restrictions? Unfortunately no.

? What will people think if we lift the travel restrictions? They will support it.

Whatever they actually discussed, congrats to the members of the Swiss government for lifting the travel restrictions, for doing it quickly and without fear of changing their mind ??

WHO tracking of all variants of SARS-CoV-2:

WHO on Omicron as Variant of Concern:

Tracking of Covid cases and hospitalisations in Switzerland:

Swiss government press release:

WHO advice on international travel: