Earlier this week Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” in the Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit Austria and Germany — at about two-thirds of the population. Infection rates have soared in recent weeks. The seven-day average case count in Switzerland went up to more than 5,200 per day from mid-October to mid-November, a more than fivefold increase — with an upward curve like those in neighbouring Germany and Austria.
However, federal government has not responded with new restrictive measures. Analysts say it does not want to stir up more opposition to its anti-Covid policies, which face a crucial test at the ballot box this weekend as critics have grown increasingly loud.
On Sunday, as part of the country’s regular referendums, Swiss voters will cast ballots about the so-called “Covid-19 law” that has provided billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic. The law has also imposed the use of a special Covid certificate that lets only people who have been vaccinated, recovered, or tested negative attend public events and gatherings.
The Associated Press suggests in its report that if the Swiss give a thumbs-up on Sunday, that may free the government’s hand to ratchet up its anti-Covid efforts.
The Swiss Federal Council, the seven-member executive branch, went out of its way earlier this week to say: “It’s not the time to decree a tightening of measures nationwide,” while opting for a region-by-region approach and calling on citizens to act responsibly through mask-wearing, physical distancing, and proper airing of indoor areas.
Israel says it has detected a case of the Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa
Israel has identified a case of a Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations first detected in South Africa, the health ministry said today.
“The variant discovered in southern African states has been identified in Israel,” the ministry said, adding it was recorded “in a person who returned from Malawi”.
Agence France-Presse report that two more cases were detected in “people returning from abroad”, adding that they had been placed in quarantine.
The three people were all vaccinated, the health ministry said, without specifying the number of doses or the type of vaccine.
Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, called a meeting on Friday morning with public health officials and his government to take stock of the Covid situation in the country.
Israel had already late on Thursday placed on its “red list” the southern African nations of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe because of the discovery of the variant.
Reuters has an update on the reaction in India to the new variant emerging in southern Africa. India issued an advisory to all states to rigorously test and screen international travellers from South Africa and other “at risk” countries amid concerns over a new coronavirus variant, after easing some of its travel restrictions earlier this month.
The federal health ministry said reports of mutations in the new variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had “serious public health implications”.
“This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” the health secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, said in a letter to states late last night.
While some major Asian countries rushed to tighten border controls and restrict travellers, India had not yet issued a notification, a senior government source said.
“This has not been studied fully by ministry of health,” the source told Reuters, declining to be identified.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), which advises the UK government, said it was “very, very early days” in understanding the new variant and whether it may affect vaccines, whether it spreads more rapidly or is more deadly.
He earlier told BBC Breakfast: “I think there’s been fewer than 100 confirmed cases in South Africa and elsewhere so far, so it is concerning, but really important that we gather as much information as possible right now so we really understand exactly how concerned we should be.”
PA Media reports he said South Africa could see a rapid spread in cases owing to the fact only 24% of the population are fully vaccinated.
Addressing people in the UK, he said: “The message really isn’t changed ... it is still important that people do go out, continue to get their vaccines, continue to get their boosters because it still will provide us with protection.”
He said the key thing for the UK was whether the variant would send the reproductive value (the R) significantly above one, or would potentially lead to higher numbers of hospital admissions.
He said then the government would need to look at taking action but added: “There’s an awful lot of ifs at the moment and all of these needs to be clarified before I think we get there and actually think about what might be happening if we start seeing a growing number of cases in the UK.”
There is a press briefing coming out from the World Health Organization (WHO) at the moment, and tit says:
- It will convene an experts meeting at noon in Geneva today over the B.1.1.159 variant.
- It will evaluate whether this new variant is a “variant of interest” or a “variant of concern”.
- It declined to make any comment on the rapid imposition of travel bans for people coming from the southern African region where the variant has taken hold.
It is a while since the WHO last designated a “variant of concern”. So far there are four, named Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. There are currently two “variants of interest” – Lambda and Mu. If B.1.1.159 is named today it will become Nu.
As a reminder here are the definitions of those terms:
Variant of interest (VOI) – a SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape; and that has been identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple Covid-19 clusters, in multiple countries.
Variant of concern (VOC) – a SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:
- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR
- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR
- Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.
Italy imposes ban on entry from seven southern African states
Italy has also imposed an entry ban on people who have visited a group of southern African states in the last 14 days, due to the spread of a new Covid-19 variant there.
Reuters reports a statement said the Italian health minister, Roberto Speranza, has signed an executive order banning entry by people who have visited South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the last fortnight.
“Our scientists are studying the new B.1.1.529 variant. In the meantime, we will adopt the greatest possible caution,” Speranza said.