26 May 2020 – Policy Brief

Strategy to control the epidemic of SARS-CoV-2 in Switzerland and protect lives and livelihoods

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Switzerland has made an enormous and successful effort to bring down the new confirmed SARS-CoV2 cases from more than 1000 to about 50 per day. What strategy should Switzerland now adopt to control the spread of the virus until a vaccine or effective treatment becomes available?

Executive summary

We present a strategy to control the epidemic while protecting lives and livelihoods, synthesizing insights from earlier Policy Briefs of the Task Force. This strategy is based on a comprehensive public health surveillance-response system. The goal of the strategy is to keep case numbers low at all times. This is the most effective, least disruptive and least costly way to maintain control of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. To keep case numbers low, we need to:
  • Use a comprehensive and unified system to measure transmission and combine targeted and general measures within a national surveillance-response plan (complementing the existing Sentinella system).
  • Intensify targeted measures (based on testing, contact tracing, isolating, quarantining and other means of targeted intervention) to achieve early detection and break transmission chains.
  • Maintain general measures that have low to moderate costs for the society and economy (e.g. social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene and masks). More disruptive measures (e.g. closure of schools, businesses and restaurants) should only be deployed if necessary.
  • Tailor targeted and general measures to different geographic regions and strengthen public health surveillance to improve monitoring of the effects of the response on the epidemic.
  • Coordinate cantonal, regional and international action plans across borders to prepare for the long-term changes needed to keep case numbers low.

This strategy requires the following actions:

  • Access to testing must be greatly facilitated. Testing should be broadly available, easy to access, explicitly encouraged and paid for by the Confederation.
  • The intensity of testing and the individuals that are mainly targeted for testing should be adapted to the regional settings.
  • The system for contact tracing needs to be expanded to ensure a consistent and rapid response and to respond quickly if numbers of cases increase.
  • All contacts require testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection, and quarantine or isolation. This applies to contacts identified by classical contact tracing and digital proximity tracing.
  • People in isolation and quarantine must be afforded legal protection against job loss and social protection against income loss.
  • A clear, timely, and persuasive communication of this strategy must be rolled out. The behavior of individuals is key in controlling the epidemic and protecting vulnerable people and the rights of individuals.

We argue that this strategy is the best option from all perspectives – health, economic and societal. We explain that it is important to invest considerable resources into identifying and interrupting individual transmission chains. We show that such an investment is proportionate and necessary to prevent massive damage to the health of individuals, to society and to the economy. Lastly, we provide specific recommendations for how to implement this strategy.

Date of request: 
Date of response: 29.05.2020

In response to request from: NCS-TF

Comment on planned updates:

Expert groups and individuals involved: Alle Expertengruppen und das Advisory Board haben zu diesem Policy Brief beigetragen.

Contact persons: Martin Ackermann (martin.ackermann@env.ethz.ch), Sebastian Bonhoeffer (seb@env.ethz.ch), Marcel Tanner ( marcel.tanner@swisstph.ch)