The WHO has declared the spread of the new coronavirus to be an international health emergency. Here you will find information about the current situation, in Switzerland and abroad, recommendations for travellers and answers to frequently asked questions.
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Current situation – International
More than 78,500 cases of the new coronavirus have been reported throughout the world. 2,461 people have died, of those 19 outside of mainland China.
These figures do not show the whole picture. The number of unreported cases could be very high. There are probably more cases than have been reported, and more deaths.
Infections with the new coronavirus have been confirmed in China and nearly 30 other countries or regions. In Europe cases have been reported in France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Russia and Belgium.
On 30 January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern. This step is designed to
- Strengthen international cooperation,
- Make sure information is exchanged openly and transparently,
- Generate additional resources to prepare for and combat the problem,
- Curb the spread of the virus,
- Reduce the effects of this epidemic.
On 11 February, the WHO gave the disease caused by the new coronavirus an official name: COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019.
Current situation – Switzerland
So far none of the samples in Switzerland has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
It is, however, possible that cases may also occur in Switzerland. We and our partners are preparing for the eventuality that the new coronavirus will spread in Switzerland.
On the basis of the current assessment of the situation it is not necessary to restrict entry to Switzerland.
Nose or throat swabs are being tested in diagnostic labs in all suspected cases. If the lab confirms an infection with the new coronavirus, people who have been in contact with the person contracting the disease are informed about their risk by the health authorities.
Recommendations for travellers
So far the WHO has not issued any travel restrictions.
Airports in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and other Asian countries or regions have introduced systematic screening measures to monitor passengers from China. Travellers can also expect to face increased monitoring at other international airports (in Europe, North America and Australia).
Before your trip, contact the embassy or consulate of the country you are travelling to in order to find out about any special measures that are in place (FDFA website > Foreign representations in Switzerland).
We advise against travel to the Chinese province of Hubei.
In Hubei province, Wuhan and other cities have been extensively sealed off. Road, rail and air travel have been stopped. People must wear masks in public spaces. Travel to and from these regions is only allowed with a special permit, if at all. It is unclear how long these restrictions and arrangements will apply.
If you are travelling to other parts of China
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or use hand sanitiser.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, or if you have a tissue use the crook of your arm.
- Avoid contact with people who are coughing or have difficulties breathing.
- Avoid large gatherings of people, such as sporting events and public transport.
- Follow local instructions and recommendations.
- In case of symptoms (difficulties breathing, a cough or fever), do not go out in public anymore and contact immediately - first by phone - a doctor or a a hospital.
If you have recently spent time in China
For 14 days after your departure from China:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or use hand sanitiser.
- Avoid large gatherings of people, such as sporting events and public transport.
- If you have difficulties breathing, a cough or fever, stay at home or in your hotel. Do not go out in public. Immediately contact – first by phone – a doctor or health centre. Mention that you have recently been in China and have symptoms. You will find more information in the FAQ (frequently asked questions).
If you do not have any symptoms it does not make sense to have a test, as there is no test that can rule out an infection with certainty if you have no symptoms.
Information for health professionals
Call the appointed cantonal medical officer within two hours if a case meets the case definition criteria and the reporting criteria.
Origins of the new coronavirus
The coronavirus epidemic in China probably originated at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where bats, snakes and other wild animals were traded in addition to fish. The virus was transmitted from animals to humans. Since then the virus has been transmitted from person to person. The Chinese authorities have closed the market.
Frequently asked questions
In December 2019, an unusual incidence of pneumonia was recorded in Wuhan. Wuhan has population of around 11 million. By the end of December 2019, at least four cases had been reported. In early January 2020, the cause was identified in China as a novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has provisionally designated this virus new coronavirus.
It is a single-stranded RNA virus, which means mutations may occur in its genome. As yet, however, no significant mutations have been observed. The virus is a member of the same family as the pathogens that cause SARS(Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
The virus originated in animals, but transferred to humans. Since then it has been spreading from person to person, and continues to do so. The source was a now-closed wild animal and seafood market in the city of Wuhan. Wuhan is the capital of province, which has a population of 57 million. It is not yet clear from which species the virus has been transmitted; bats are the most likely candidates.
The SARS epidemic that broke out in December 2002 (until mid-2004) originated in a Chinese animal market in Foshan, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. The host in this case was civet cats that had in turn been infected by bats. Wild animals such as bats, rodents and snakes are sold – generally still alive – as delicacies at food markets in southern China. According to media reports, the Chinese government has since banned the sale of wild animals at markets and on the Internet.
The new coronavirus is transmitted primarily by droplet infection. In other words, if one person sneezes or coughs, the virus can be transported directly to the mucous membranes in the nose, mouth or eyes of another person. Since the virus can also survive outside the body for a few hours in tiny droplets on hands or on surfaces such as door handles or knobs, people can also transfer it to the mucous membranes in their own nose, mouth or eyes by touching their face after picking up the droplets. In general, however, you can only contract the virus if you are in close contact (less than 2 metres for more than 15 minutes) with a contagious person.
At present it is still unclear how quickly the new coronavirus spreads from person to person. The reproduction rate (what is known as the basic reproduction number R0) indicates how many other people one contagious person can infect. Current estimates indicate that the reproduction number for this virus is between 1.5 and 4. This means that on average, one contagious person can infect 1.5 to no more than 4 as yet uninfected people. (By way of comparison, the reproduction number for seasonal flu is approximately 1.2 – 1.4 during the winter; for measles it is about 18, while for SARS it was only just over 1.0).
The virus can infect people of any age. The ages of laboratory-confirmed cases in China range from 8 months to 90 years.
Incubation period: Following infection with the new coronavirus, it generally takes 4–7 days (range: 1–14 days) for the first symptoms to appear.
The risk of being infected by the novel coronavirus in Switzerland is currently low. So far nobody has been confirmed with the virus.
If cases were to occur, however, the people with the disease would be put in isolation. Close contacts with these people would have to remain in quarantine for two weeks. These measures would serve to prevent, as far as possible, the further spread of the novel coronavirus in Switzerland.
In the early stages (i.e. after the incubation period), non-specific malaise, fatigue and fever similar to the symptoms of flu often occur. These are normally followed by respiratory symptoms, typically a dry cough.
Less common symptoms are: headache; rarely muscle pain, nausea and diarrhoea.
Cold symptoms and a sore throat are very rare (and generally tend to indicate a “common cold”).
In many milder cases, these symptoms persist for several days, after which patients return to health.
In severe cases, shortness of breath can occur after about one week, while in the worst-case scenario, pneumonia accompanied by difficulty breathing and involvement of other organ systems can occur.
The elderly and people with a chronic pre-existing condition (particularly high blood pressure, heart and lung disease, diabetes or conditions that impair the immune system) are more likely to experience severe illness. However, there have also been isolated severe cases involving younger, previously healthy people. It is currently unclear how frequently severe forms of illness caused by the new coronavirus occur; however, the majority of cases follow a mild course. At least 10% of patients do not have a fever, and some do not have a cough. In addition, several people who did not exhibit any symptoms at all tested positive for the new coronavirus.
It is also currently unclear how high the mortality rate (or case fatality ratio, CFR) is for an coronavirus infection. The present
assumption is that the mortality rate for the novel coronavirus-related illness is less than 3%. (By way of comparison, the mortality rate for measles is around 0.1 %, that for SARS was about 10%, and the rate for MERS is 35%).
The progression of the current 2019-nCoV epidemic over the next few days and weeks will provide greater clarity on this point.
The whole of China and several other countries are currently affected by the new coronavirus.
Most of those infected live in or have recently visited China.
Detailed information can be found above under Current situation.
So far the World Health Organization (WHO) has not issued any travel restrictions on travel.
However, we do advise against travelling to the Chinese province of Hubei.
And we advise caution if you are travelling to other areas of China (you’ll find more information on this site under Current situation).
Please also observe the Recommendations for travellers on this site.
You will find information on health matters in relation to travel abroad at www.safetravel.ch/.
You will find guidance on how to act when travelling in other regions of China on this site under Recommendations for travellers > If you are travelling to other parts of China.
Find out what to do on this site under Recommendations for travellers > For 14 days after your departure from China.
Currently there are no travel restrictions for other countries (except China). Persons travelling abroad can find up-to-date information on health issues in the various countries on the website www.safetravel.ch/.
There are information sheets available for hotel, train and flight staff. You will find these under the Documents tab.
Where necessary, many airports and airlines are providing personal protective measures for their staff.
For information on how to behave when travelling within China or to another affected area, please refer to the Recommendations for travellers on this page.
Should the new coronavirus become widespread in Switzerland, what can people do to protect themselves against infection?
In general, people in Switzerland would then be recommended to adopt personal protective measures similar to those currently recommended for people travelling from Switzerland to China. Information on this topic can be found on this page under Recommendations for travellers.
Wearing simple medical face masks in public or when in contact with people who have the novel coronavirus does not reliably protect the healthy against infection. Droplets from the infected person’s airways can pass through the gaps at the side of the mask if it is not a tight fit. Over time, masks become moist from the wearer’s breath, which can also reduce their protective properties. Furthermore, the viruses are so small that they can pass through the material and enter the upper airways.
Nevertheless, several studies show that wearing a medical face mask helps reduce the risk of infection because the wearer touches their mouth, nose and eyes with their potentially contaminated hands less frequently.
Face masks can significantly reduce virus transmission by infected people because they intercept a large number of the droplets emitted by sneezing or coughing. However, they only do so if they are worn correctly.
Special FFP masks that provide a barrier to viruses are available for medical applications. Such masks must always be worn when in contact with, treating or providing nursing care for people who have the new coronavirus. A sufficient number must be provided for this purpose.
No. At present it is not possible to vaccinate against coronaviruses. Studies set up to develop a vaccine were halted after the SARS epidemic (2002–2004) was successfully combated.
Several institutions and companies around the world are currently working intensively to develop a vaccine. Development will take several months to several years. It is currently not possible to predict when or whether sufficient quantities of a safe and effective vaccine will be available within a useful time period.
Every suspected case of coronavirus infection must be investigated by a doctor. The doctor will ask about travel, contact with others and symptoms (difficulties breathing, a cough or fever).
Laboratory testing is the only way of obtaining conclusive confirmation. It may be necessary to take a sample by means of a nose/throat smear (also called a nasopharyngeal swab). This involves taking a small amount of mucus from the back of the nose and throat. Although painless, the procedure can be a little unpleasant. The National Reference Center for Emerging Viral Infections (NAVI/CRIVE) at Geneva University Hospital then tests specifically for new coronavirus using a technique known as PCR. The results of the test are generally available less than 12 hours later. Other major hospitals’ laboratories can also carry out the test. However, a sample must also always be sent to the National Reference Center.
Measures and other efforts by the Chinese authorities: The city of Wuhan and other major cities in Hubei province have been locked down since 23 January 2020. Road, rail and air links have been suspended, and people are required to wear masks in public. Major events have been cancelled and tourist attractions closed down throughout China and in other countries in the region. The authorities have also recommended cancelling group tours, extending holidays for certain employees and temporarily closing schools, nurseries and universities. All airports in China, many in the Asia region and a few in Australia, North America and Europe have started to screen passengers for the symptoms of illness as they leave or enter.
Efforts such as these to contain the epidemic have huge consequences. They limit personal freedom of movement and can have a huge impact on social provision, the economy and, not least, the mental health of the people affected by them.
However, it is a fact that the new virus is making some people seriously ill or even causing their death, and that the viruses spread from person to person. The less contagious people are able to travel (in terms of both frequency and distance) and infect healthy people, the more effectively the epidemic can be slowed down. For this reason, measures that restrict everyone’s freedom of movement – contagious and healthy people alike – are particularly effective at the start of an epidemic and in its place of origin. As the epidemic passes, it may be possible to relax such measures.
Furthermore, early detection, isolation and appropriate treatment at all stages of the epidemic remain the most effective way of delaying its spread and thus of keeping the number of people who fall ill or die as low as possible.
It is not certain whether the massive efforts being undertaken by the Chinese people and authorities will bring about a swift end to the epidemic. The progression of this epidemic over the next few days and weeks will provide greater clarity on this point.
At present there is no specific treatment for coronavirus-related illness. The options are currently limited to the treatment and relief of the symptoms.
Anyone who falls ill as a result of new coronavirus infection has to be isolated. Their doctor will help decide whether it makes more sense to isolate and care for them at home or in hospital, depending on their symptoms, age and state of health.
In mild cases lasting less than seven days, treatment as for complication-free flu is sufficient: rest, drink enough fluid, reduce fever if necessary.
In severe cases, intensive care – possibly including artificial respiration – is required. Various antivirals – among other medicines – are currently being used in severe cases as part of efforts to establish an effective specific treatment.
Are antibiotics effective in preventing and treating the new coronavirus?
No, antibiotics are not effective against viruses, only against bacteria. The new coronavirus is a virus and therefore antibiotics should not be used for prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalised in the future because of a suspected coronavirus infection, you may be given antibiotics, as bacterial co-infection is possible.
Yes. To prevent the disease spreading, suspected cases who exhibit symptoms have to remain in isolation until such time as the new coronavirus (or any other dangerous pathogen) has been ruled out.
The recommended course of action is to wash with soap and water any skin and clothing that may have been contaminated by droplets from the airways of an infected person. Skin and hands should be cleansed with hand sanitiser (if available), and clothes should be washed on a hot cycle as soon as possible.
Objects and surfaces should be cleaned with a 0.1% bleach solution.
Parcels do not present any risk. The virus can generally only survive on objects for a few hours. Items ordered in China are safe if they have been in transit for several days.
Nevertheless, be sure to observe good hand hygiene in everyday life.
In the vast majority of cases, the new coronavirus is transmitted by people with respiratory symptoms.
It is therefore unnecessary to avoid contact with people who have no symptoms or to take other precautions.
At present, most people with respiratory symptoms have either influenza or a cold.
Wherever possible, people in Switzerland should avoid close contact (less than 2 metres) with anyone with an acute respiratory disease, regardless of where they come from. Doing so will reduce the risk of flu viruses, cold viruses and, in the near future, the new coronavirus being transmitted.
Be sure to observe good hand hygiene in everyday life too.
No special measures are currently required for schools, child-care centres, homes and other educational and care institutions.
However, please observe the recommendations for people who develop symptoms within 14 days of visiting China. Information
on this can be found under Recommendations for travellers > If you are travelling to other parts of China.
More information about the symptoms can be found under question 4.
Press conference from 21 february 2020, 2 pm
Last modification 23.02.2020