Agent Provocateur is Global Geneva’s oped column.
Rather than ramping up testing on its own citizens for Covid-19 and completely sealing off Swiss borders to the highly infected Italy and France, Switzerland has opted for a systematic and intentional release of false data regarding Coronavirus infection numbers — a kind of hands-off, “Don’t test, don’t tell” policy – that amounts to a social engineering campaign targeting the health of its elderly.
This contradictory policy ends up being potentially lethal to the very population it claims to be protecting. On the one hand, the authorities implemented such policies as reserving testing for the vulnerable age group of 65 and older in order not to overwhelm the health care system and to preserve limited hospital care for them. On the other hand, Switzerland allows border crossings for workers from Italy. At this time of writing (16 March, 2020), Italy has reported 28,000 cases of Covid-19, with 2158 deaths. Borders remaining open to cross-border workers create a gateway for the virus that is killing elderly Swiss in frontier towns like Ticino.
No commitment to testing
The math is basic: The infection rate in Italy is .0005 per cent. and there are 70,000 Italians crossing the border every day to work in Ticino, Switzerland. That’s potentially 245 infected people entering the country weekly. This does not include those possibly infected within the community of 80,000 French frontaliers crossing daily into Geneva.
While aiding and abetting new cases via these border policies, the government, inexplicably, has still not committed to testing as many people as possible. Nor has it announced plans to manufacture enough testing kits to do so. Exacerbating the situation, the Federal government appears committed to publishing unrealistic low numbers of infection, having lulled the population into a false sense of security. This has promulgated risky social behavior — i.e., disregarding social distancing–spreading the virus even further among the elderly population.
Swiss barriers to testing are clearly detrimental to containing the virus’ spread, as this leads to lack of diagnoses and access to treatment, and translates into more unnecessary deaths.
Furthermore, schools have remained open (until March 17) because keeping kids in school, the authorities’ reasoning goes, translates into less infections amongst grandparents. There is no science to back this up. It’s more likely that infected kids would infect their grandparents. Regardless, this policy has been abandoned. Because the risk of death is highest among the elderly population, the Swiss policy ostensibly puts at high risk this demographic it claims to protect. If it sounds illogical; this is because it is.
Testing is essential for slowing the spread of Covid-19 infection. We have the science to aid and forewarn us; we should take full advantage and not look this gift horse in the mouth. As it was many years ago with the HIV virus, many people are simply unaware they are infected. Non-tested, asymptomatic people must be considered possible spreaders, less likely to take precautions to help prevent passing the virus to others.
Switzerland is one of the top ten Covid-19 affected countries, yet unlike any of other of these top countries, such as China, South Korea, and the US, it has shown no determination to screen as many people as possible nor to manufacture enough necessary testing kits, let alone drive through testing. The Swiss authorities have been caught totally unprepared–medically, scientifically, financially and intellectually.
Reporting low numbers: a negligent coverup?
With its non-testing policy, the Swiss government has failed its citizens—its elders in particular. Instead of implementing emergency plans, such as tapping the private pharmaceutical business sector to manufacture testing kits, building new facilities to ease the soon-to-be overwhelmed hospitals like the designated tent clinics in the US and other nations, the Swiss, now involved in a major coverup and negligence, spent their time reporting low numbers and rationalizing why keeping their borders open is sound economic policy.
Though the Swiss, like Chinese, are skewing their numbers, they are more culpable than China. Even with its manipulation and censoring of facts, China still did everything in its power to contain the spread and not further expose its population. The Chinese aggressively sealed off travel to and from infected regions and built new hospitals within weeks. They locked down tens of millions of people and tested and treated as many as possible.
Switzerland, meanwhile, has provided false numbers and maintained open access to cross-border workers from the biggest epicenter today, while refusing to shore up the two main battle fronts–containment and testing. This lack of significant action allows the virus to spread, directly risking the lives of older demographics.
One would think Switzerland, known as the land of pharmaceuticals, would at least be working overtime to develop tests that are readily available to screen younger generations. While the US Food and Drug Administration has turned to (paradoxically) Swiss health care giant Roche to ramp up its testing—its new kits will be able to test 4,000 samples in 24 hours, providing results in less than four hours—the Swiss health authorities continue to simply advise people with symptoms to stay home. They won’t be tested, unless deemed part of the vulnerable population. This approach does not address the spread by non-symptomatic carriers, and puts in harm’s way those most vulnerable.
By CNN’s accounts, president of the ETH Board Michael Hengartner said, “The government has decided that they will only test people who are at risk, who have strong symptoms.” “Young people, who might have weak symptoms, will simply be asked to stay at home to minimize contagion.”
That’s because the government, unprepared and underequipped, has limited testing capabilities. This despite the World Health Organization’s call to test every suspected case. And instead of trying to enhance this shortcoming, it concocts theories with no scientific basis, undermining society’s basic need to slow the disease in order to protect it. In the 1980’s, when the AIDS epidemic spread across the world, governments advised people to get tested and to wear condoms.
Not enough tests available
And we know the success of this policy. One would think, in today’s crisis, the Swiss would follow: Get tested, and if infected, stay home, unless hospitalization becomes necesary. It’s the logical way to proceed. But the first part of the equation is missing. There are not enough tests nor plans to manufacture them.
Initially more concerned about the virus’s effect on its economy than its people, Switzerland is now losing both. This lack of certainty of who is infected and who is not breeds panic. People are over-stocking on food and supplies, hand sanitizers and toilet paper, and staying home. Self-care is the only possibility when a paralyzed government takes a hands-off approach and puts the onus on the individual.
Due to the present porous borders, elderly are dying. Cross-border workers perform the jobs Swiss don’t want to do. Non-testing allows infected cross-border workers into the country, while keeping Swiss healthy workers at home. Businesses go bankrupt. The government bails them out or doesn’t. The results: rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus among the population — the economy flounders because young non-infected people are forced to stay home instead of going to work, while the elderly continue to die.
What we know from what happened in China–from what Italy did not do, and from what Switzerland is not doing—is that a strong, rapid response can curb the peaks of infections and deaths. Switzerland’s cost benefit analysis regarding implementation of measures was way off and not based on statistical data or science. It took seven weeks of China’s aggressive response and utilizing all its available resources to flatten the curve. During this time, instead of learning from China, Switzerland’s authorities were on vacation with their heads in the ground.
Because of its failed “Don’t test, don’t tell” policy, Switzerland, like Italy, is far behind the virus and the authorities are forced to make a 180 degree about face, racing to catch up. As of today’s writing, March 16th, there are 2300 confirmed cases in Switzerland, with 18 dead, mostly elderly. After a record rise in confirmed cases over the weekend, On 16 March, 2020, the federal government finally threw the towel in on its hands off, fend for yourself policy, and announced a State of Emergency. All schools, bars, restaurants, parks and public places, ski resorts and many businesses will be closed until 19 April. Nurseries and kindergartens will—inexplicably—remain open. There is still no mention of increased screening, nor of any intention to use its private sector health care giants to help manufacture test kits.
The coordinated effort of the federal authority is too little, too late: The crime has been committed, the damage done. The country has 82 intensive care units with a total of 1,000 beds. Of these, 850 are equipped with ventilators. Half of the people on ventilators die during the first week, those who survive stay on for 4 weeks. There was no mention of government’s preparation for surge capacity other than that the army can offer a mere 200 beds. The army has cautioned the authorities that they are only trained to deal with battle wounds such as gunshot and shrapnel, not a viral epidemic. The government’s only plan seems to be imposed self-quarantine. Should you be concerned? Very.
The math doesn’t add up. It’s inevitable: Switzerland will find itself in a health crisis due to obvious lack of facilities. The federal government’s coffers may be full, but their brains are bankrupt.
On 13 March, 2020 Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga said: “…We have the medical and financial means to cope with the difficult situation.” Will the people of Switzerland continue to put its collective head in the ground and submit to these untruths, or will they raise their voices and speak out?
If we don’t, we could be killing off an entire generation of elderly, while bankrupting the younger generation. And what could be an even worse possible outcome of Switzerland’s “Don’t test, don’t tell” policy that valued money over lives, is that we may be forced to choose between the survival of our parents’ generations, our children’s, or our own.
Andy Cohen is a Geneva-based American film-maker, producer and writer. His most recent documentary (Ximei, 2019) investigated China’s ‘poisoned’ blood scandal infecting more than 300,000 victims with HIV/AIDS – and then the Beijing government’s efforts to do everything possible to cover up the scandal. For more information, please go to LINK: