Information about coronaviruses

We have known about coronaviruses since the 1960s. They are a large family of viruses, seven types of which can cause illness in people. Four known types of coronavirus cause minor, recurrent colds, and three others can lead to serious illness. They are called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS coronavirus), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV (COVID-19), which was discovered in 2019.

The new coronavirus has spread from China throughout the entire world since the end of 2019. Steps taken in Switzerland (lockdown, social distancing and hygiene measures) made it possible to achieve a decline in the number of new infections in mid-2020 (first wave). Following a respite of the situation over the summer months, another rapid increase in the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths occurred in a second major wave in October 2020, which receded again in February. Vaccinations have also been possible in Switzerland since the end of 2020. Vaccination coverage began with high-risk groups, leading to a significant decrease in the number of deaths during the third wave. There were hardly any new cases of infections in the early summer months of 2021. The fourth wave was characterised by another rise in infections and hospitalisations in the second half of July and a decline in cases in September. This was followed relatively quickly by a 5th wave, beginning in the end of October 2021, and a 6th wave in early June 2022. 

The situation remains serious. The new variant 'Omikron', which was designated as a variant of concern by the WHO on 26 November 2021, is dominant in Switzerland since the 5th wave. Several subtypes of this variant currently exist. The Omikron subtypes BA.1 and BA.2 dominated the 5th wave and were replaced by the subtypes BA.4 and BA.5 in the 6th wave.

This variant is very contagious and has a particularly large number of mutations in the area of the spike protein, which is why people who have already had the disease or people who were vaccinated some time back are more likely to get infected again. Current data suggest that infection with the Omikron variant is usually slightly milder, as was the case with the Delta variant, and that a recent vaccination/rebooster with the vaccines, which are currently available in Switzerland, continues to provide good protection against severe courses.

In order to slow down the spread of the virus and to protect particularly vulnerable individuals it remains important to follow the recommendations regarding hygiene-, test- and behavioral rules.

Find more information on the information page of the Federal Office of Public Health.

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An infection mainly occurs via small droplets and aerosols (tiny droplets). These are expelled, for example, when coughing, sneezing, speaking loudly or singing. Infections through direct contact with contaminated surfaces play a minor role. Coronaviruses can be transmitted directly from person to person in close and prolonged contact. However, since aerosols have a much greater range than 1.5 metres and in addition can remain in the air for several hours due to the small size of their particles, it is also possible for people to become infected even if they were not in direct contact with the infected person itself. This is to be expected particularly in narrow, closed and poorly ventilated rooms where many people have been staying for a long time at the same time. 

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The symptoms are similar to a normal cold with or without fever, headache, sore throat, blocked nose, cough, breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath and muscle aches; other complaints such as skin rashes, conjunctivitis and gastro-intestinal symptoms are also possible.

The temporary loss of the sense of taste and smell is typical. However, infections can be asymptomatic, but the infected person is still able to pass on the virus.

The illness is often mild in younger and healthy people, and it can be assumed that they will recover quickly. Older people and/or people with existing risk factors may suffer severe symptoms, whereby life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, coagulation disorders or heart problems may occur.

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Long Covid

As well as serious acute illness, a Covid-19 infection can also cause a variety of long-lasting complaints (more than 12 weeks), such as constant fatigue, lack of energy and shortness of breath or even depression and anxiety. These symptoms are grouped together under the term “long Covid” and can occur regardless of age or severity of the original illness. Treatment depends on the type of symptoms. If necessary, sufferers can contact their family doctor or the long-Covid-consultation at the University Hospital Basel directly. Find more information on this topic here.

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Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms. There is currently no specific treatment for the virus. It is therefore all the more important to prevent severe cases through vaccination.

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Notification criteria (for doctors and laboratories)

Notifications are made according to the current notification criteria ( to the Cantonal Medical Office (via and to the FOPH (via Fax 058 463 87 77 or email:

Notification Form FOPH (in German)

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