Public health experts at the service of the Confederation and the cantons

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+) have created a closed sharing platform for public health experts to facilitate and coordinate the exchange of information and the creation of working groups that can support the federal and cantonal authorities in the rapid decision-making process in response to the health crisis. Among the experts involved is Fabrizio Mazzonna, professor of economics and health policy at USI Institute of Economics and member of SSPH+, who we contacted to find out more about the analyses of the effects of Covid-19 which he is currently working on.

The rise of the health crisis linked to the new coronavirus outbreak puts a lot of pressure on the federal and cantonal authorities. They are forced to take rapid measures to contain the spread of the virus with little information available. Since the virus is new, the scientific evidence regarding its effects (such as contagiousness, mortality, or the modality of contagion) is still unclear. There is therefore a need to analyse the data in real time , providing multidisciplinary knowledge in order to help the authorities make proper and well thought out decisions.

Every week, the FOPH makes the latest data relating to the epidemic available on the platform and asks questions about its development and, more recently, about the effects of the restrictive measures taken. "The data provided are more detailed than those usually available to the international scientific community, including anonymous information on the single individuals found positive for Covid-19 and the development of the disease. Moreover, as Switzerland is one of the countries in the world to have run the highest number of screening on its population at the onset of the first symptoms, statistics on the contagiousness and mortality related to the virus are much more reliable than those of countries where only the most serious symptoms have been tested, such as neighbouring Lombardy" Mazzonna explains. To this end, Mazzonna has recently started collaborating with other researchers - including Torsten Horton statistician at ETH Zurich, and Alessia Melegaro, epidemiologist at Bocconi University in Milan - with the aim of analysing these data and contributing to the international scientific debate on the effects of Covid-19.

Compared to the data received so far and the analyses carried out, what conclusions can already be drawn regarding Switzerland’s response to the emergency? "It can be said that the Swiss health system has been able to withstand the shockwave of the epidemic, partly thanks to coordination of all the parties involved (hospitals and cantonal and federal authorities). Lombardy has been taken by surprise by the epidemic. As soon as the virus started spreading in the neighbouring country, Switzerland did not waste time as others did (Spain, UK, USA...) but used that extra time to prepare the health care system and to prevent, for example, hospitals from becoming a vehicle of contagion," Mazzonna explains.

It is also possible to make an initial assessment of the effectiveness of the measures taken: "Thanks to the anonymous individual data, we can estimate how much time passes on average between the appearance of symptoms, the screening and eventual death, and use this information to verify the effect of the restrictive measures. From the analysis carried out so far we can see how the social distancing (or soft-lockdown) measures announced on 13 March, and implemented since 16 March, have clearly reversed the trend and brought the epidemic under control," he continues.

An analysis conducted on a side by Prof. Mazzonna also reveals differences between the linguistic regions of our country, which have experienced a different spread of the virus and a heterogeneous response to restrictive policies: "In particular, in the French and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland the virus has spread much more rapidly, especially among the elderly, perhaps because of the greater number of intergenerational social contacts. However, these areas also responded more strictly to the lockdown. This shows up clearly in the mobility data made available by Google and Swisscom, but also in the contagion and mortality curves that fall much faster in there than in German-speaking Switzerland," concludes Mazzonna.