Switzerland continues to register consistently high excess mortality in December due to the Corona pandemic. The annual excess mortality compared to the standard value is expected to be about 6900 persons and is now also clearly visible in the graph of mortality since 1900 (see chart above).
Mortality in November and December, at about 0.102% of the population each, is in the range of the strongest influenza months since 1950, with a similar value last recorded in January 1970 (0.103%). Even higher values were recorded in “heroin January” 1990 (0.115%) and during the strong seasonal and pandemic influenza waves of the 1950s and 1960s (up to 0.120%).
The 2020 annual all-cause mortality rate of just under 0.86% was last reached during the flu and heat year of 2003 and the flu year of 2000 (see next graph). The median age of corona deaths in Switzerland is 86 years, that of hospitalized patients 74 years. Approximately 50% of the deaths occurred in nursing homes, which comprise 1% of the population. In the age group below 65 years, no excess mortality is apparent – in contrast to severe flu outbreaks.
For younger persons, the main risk is serious long-covid symptoms, such as sequelae of pneumonia or post-viral fatigue. Overall, corona deaths will account for about 10% of all Swiss deaths in 2020.
According to the latest figures, antibody seroprevalence in the hotspot of Geneva was 22% by early December. In German-speaking Switzerland, however, seroprevalence is still below 20%. With a national value of approx. 18%, this results in a lethality (IFR) of approx. 0.45% for the total population and of approx. 0.22% for the general population (excluding nursing homes).
By comparison, Bergamo achieved substantial collective immunity after the spring wave, with seroprevalence ranging from 25% (province) to nearly 40% (city), which now significantly limits the second wave in the fall and winter. Densely populated areas in countries such as Brazil or Iran, however, reached higher seroprevalence rates of approx. 50% to 70% (so-called “overshoot”).
In terms of corona mortality, Switzerland is almost on a par with the much-maligned Sweden without lockdown and mandatory masking (ca. 760d/M), although the antibody level in Stockholm is already over 30%. Supposedly exemplary countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovenia (early mask requirement, double lockdown) are well ahead of Switzerland with ca. 1000d/M.
In Europe, only Finland and Norway (plus Iceland) have less than 100 deaths per million inhabitants, as they introduced border controls just in time in spring and have therefore been managing with mild measures since early summer. Switzerland would have been well-suited to such a “hedgehog strategy,” but it was probably already too late for that at the end of February.
The Swiss Corona Task Force cannot be given too good a report card: First, the general population was put into an unnecessary panic with highly inflated lethality values, followed – partly based on falsified studies – by a series of proposals for largely ineffectual measures such as masks, mass tests, tracing apps and remdesivir.
Finally, the task force called for another lockdown, even though this extremely disruptive intervention has hardly proven itself even in supposed role models such as Ireland – the rise in infection figures there has already been higher than in Switzerland again since December.
The biggest scandal, however, is that the Swiss task force, as well as the authorities and the media, ignored or even blocked evidence-based prophylaxis and early treatment, even though, according to international studies, it can reduce hospitalizations and deaths by about 80%, even in care homes.
Would the pandemic in Switzerland have been worse without a social slowdown in the spring and winter? Absolutely. Would it have been significantly less severe with systematic prophylaxis and early treatment in the risk groups over 65? No doubt.
Switzerland, like other countries, will now begin an extensive vaccination campaign. It is to be hoped that these vaccines, some of which are technologically novel, will prove to be safe and effective and will be able to put an end to the pandemic. However, the data available so far are really not yet sufficient for a serious, long-term risk assessment.