Coronavirus: Federal Council sets out plans for the coming months
Bern, 30.06.2021 - At its meeting on 30 June, the Federal Council discussed ways of preparing Switzerland for the autumn and winter months and a possible renewed rise in the number of coronavirus cases. It has produced a report setting out various scenarios and its considerations on how to proceed. The focus is on the rapid identification of new variants of concern, continuing the vaccination campaign, ensuring sufficient capacity for testing and contact tracing in the cantons.
The epidemiological situation in Switzerland has improved significantly in recent months. The Federal Council envisages three possible scenarios as to how the epidemic could develop in the coming months. All three scenarios are based on the assumption that the virus will be endemic in the long term, in other words that the virus will not disappear but continue to circulate among the population. Most people will come into contact and become infected with the virus at some point if they are not protected from it through vaccination.
Three scenarios for autumn and winter
Under scenario 1, case numbers remain at a low level. Smaller outbreaks are still possible. Case numbers may rise slightly due to seasonal factors, but do not lead to a significant burden on the healthcare system. The measures still in place can be lifted. The crisis would be over.
Under scenario 2, case numbers rise in the autumn or winter at the latest. This may be due to a number of factors, for example the proportion of people who have not been vaccinated, the lifting of measures, seasonal effects or the appearance of new, more infectious virus variants. This increase places such a heavy burden on the healthcare system that certain basic government measures need to remain in place or be reintroduced, such as the requirement to wear masks or social distancing. Booster vaccinations may become necessary.
Under scenario 3, one or more new virus variants emerge against which vaccination or prior infection no longer provide protection, or offer significantly less protection. There is a new wave of the pandemic. Strong government intervention and renewed vaccination are required.
Medium-term planning efforts on the part of the federal government and the cantons are focusing on scenario 2 and the following challenges:
Rapidly identifying new virus variants of concern
The sooner new virus variants of concern can be identified, the quicker the introduction and spread can be limited through targeted measures. The Federal Council has already decided on precautionary measures, such as border procedures. Today it instructed the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA), in collaboration with the relevant federal agencies and the cantons, to strengthen the surveillance system for detecting new virus variants and monitoring their spread in Switzerland.
Increasing willingness to get vaccinated
Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated. The vaccination campaign will therefore be intensively pursued. Medium-term planning will involve preparing for booster vaccinations and adapting vaccines to new virus variants.
Preparing for booster vaccinations
Vaccines are currently considered to provide protection against mild forms of COVID-19 for at least 12 months and protect against severe cases and hospitalisations for over 12 months, and this can be considerably longer in healthy adults. How long the vaccination protects against transmission is not yet known. In order to ensure sufficient protection in the longer term, booster vaccinations for certain population groups or those already vaccinated will probably be necessary from next winter at the earliest.
The Federal Council has instructed the FDHA, with the involvement of the federal and cantonal authorities concerned, to initiate timely preparations for the planning and implementation of booster vaccinations. The cantons remain responsible for organising vaccinations and ensuring the necessary capacity. The DDPS has the task of ensuring the distribution of the vaccine until this can be transferred to established private distribution channels.
The vaccines approved in Switzerland have proven to be very effective against the virus variants that have appeared so far. However, it cannot be ruled out that the appearance of new virus variants will make it necessary to adapt the vaccines. The technology behind mRNA vaccines means that they can be adapted relatively simply and quickly to new virus variants. In the best case, it is likely to take around six months before vaccinations can be carried out with an adapted vaccine.
Adapting the testing strategy
Access to testing will continue to be low-threshold and open to all. Those who experience symptoms will still be able to get tested immediately. It must be possible to quickly increase laboratory capacity should the epidemic situation deteriorate. The testing strategy will be adapted once all adults who want to be vaccinated have received their jabs. Preventive testing is to be scaled back at the start of the normalisation phase, with the exception of schools. The federal government calls on the cantons to use repetitive testing to ensure that schools can continue to operate without restrictive measures. Steps are to be taken to prevent outbreaks involving children as far as possible. In countries where the delta variant is prevalent, there is an above-average number of infections in schools. It is not yet clear when vaccinations for children under 12 will be possible. No study data are available for this age group yet. Swissmedic has so far approved one vaccine for children and adolescents aged 12 and over.
Maintaining capacity for contact tracing
Even in the event of a further steps towards normalisation, contact tracing remains an important measure in quickly isolating cases that occur and preventing them from spreading. This is particularly important if virus variants of concern emerge, or if there are cases among particularly vulnerable people, for example in old people's and nursing homes. It is therefore important that the cantons maintain or are able to rapidly ramp up the necessary capacities for tracking infections.
Maintaining capacity in the healthcare system
In the event of a renewed increase in the number of cases, sufficient capacity must be available, especially in hospitals. This is the responsibility of the cantons. In addition, the healthcare system must be able to cope with the additional burden created by long-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID). The impact of the epidemic and the measures taken on mental health must also continue to be monitored.
End of the special situation
The Federal Council also addressed the question of when to declare an end to the special situation under the Epidemics Act. This can end when no emergency health situation exists worldwide because of SARS-CoV-2, and when the virus no longer poses a threat to public health in Switzerland.
Further aspects of medium-term planning
In its outline for the coming months, the Federal Council also discussed other topics, such as the supply of medical goods, the longer-term impact on society of the pandemic, international aspects, entry regulations, crisis organisation and digital systems. Most of these topics concern the federal government and the cantons.
Extension of SwissCovid app
The Federal Council also decided today to add a check-in function to the SwissCovid app from the beginning of July, to improve contact tracing. The decentralised system does not record any personal data and uses neither Bluetooth nor GPS. The check-in function is to be used for smaller events – for example private meetings, sports training sessions, choir rehearsals and small concerts or business meetings. Event organisers can create a QR code directly in the app, which guests scan when they arrive to check in to the event. After the event, guests confirm in the app that they have left the event. This information is stored locally on their own mobile phone for 14 days and is then deleted automatically. If a person tests positive for coronavirus after an event and enters the Covidcode into the SwissCovid app, an automatic notification is sent to all those who attended and checked in at the same event during the same period.
Funding scheme for medicines against COVID-19
The Federal Council has also decided to transfer implementation of its programme to promote the development of medicines to treat COVID-19 to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and Innosuisse. The FOPH will decide on the granting of funding. Innosuisse will handle calls for proposals and the technical evaluation of the submitted projects. The programme is intended to promote research, development and production of medicines against COVID-19 for safe and rapid distribution to the Swiss population. The programme criteria and the submission procedure are to be published before the end of July. The programme runs until the end of 2022.
Address for enquiries
Federal Office of Public Health,
Coronavirus Infoline +41 58 463 00 00
COVID-19 Vaccination Infoline +41 58 377 88 92
The Federal Council
Federal Department of Home Affairs
Federal Office of Public Health
Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research
Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research