Dr David Endell on COVID-19 in Switzerland

COVID-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty and change in our lives. A lot of our media consumption comes from the United States, where the situation seems to be spiralling out of control. To find some semblance of clarity during these wildly unpredictable times, I sat down with David Endell, MD, a board-certified doctor who is now practising as an orthopaedic surgeon in training in Zurich, to discuss COVID-19 in Switzerland.

Mr Endell, what was your workload like before the coronavirus hit Switzerland and how has that changed?

I am in an orthopaedic clinic in Zurich, and about 90% of our work on a normal basis is elective surgeries, consultations for those elective surgeries and ward duty. The other 10% of work is emergency surgeries and emergency consultations, so that would be for someone who had a fractured bone, for example. 

When we heard of the first cases and when Switzerland was trying to prepare for the ultimate wave of coronavirus that would hit, our clinic volunteered to be a level C clinic. COVID patients would be under our care if there were too many patients for hospitals (level A) and other clinics to take care of. To prepare to be a level C clinic, we underwent new training and drills to provide the best care possible. We were only doing emergency surgeries and all elective surgeries were postponed. 

Fortunately, we were underwhelmed at work as we weren’t needed to treat coronavirus patients. Due to this, we had to apply for the ‘Kurzarbeit,’ meaning that we didn’t have enough work due to coronavirus. It’s very strange to be a doctor and be short on work during a pandemic, but a lot of medical professionals are facing this, like family doctors and paediatricians. They are all short of patients and therefore short of work. 

What has been your reaction to Switzerland’s response? Do you think it was appropriate?

I personally feel very positive about it. The government could not be prepared for this, but then again, nobody was. They have reacted quite swiftly and efficiently and I think they have successfully calmed a lot of doubt and panic. The regulations they put in place were done very fast and they were widespread and precise enough to be effective. Compared to Italy or France, we didn’t get a huge wave or overload. Social distancing measures have been successful and we are back to where we were at the end of February in terms of numbers. 

Do you think that it was the right choice to reopen schools and loosen regulations?

As a doctor, I am inclined to say no. We cannot draw conclusions from the current data and experience. We can predict tendencies at the moment, but we won’t see if lifting restrictions has had a positive or negative impact for a couple more weeks at least. To say comfortably and with certainty that reopening is the right choice, we should probably wait it out just a little bit longer. Personally, I think we should wait until after summer to reopen, but schools are necessary to restart trade and the economy, so I understand the decision. It does appear to affect children less severely and is said to be the most dangerous for the elderly. 

Any pieces of advice for the Swiss population?

I would say to take preventative measures and be aware that the virus is invisible and can easily multiply with the opportunity. Nobody knows anything about this virus for certain, so try to follow the regulations as much as possible. I will say that given the nice weather if you really need to meet up with people, try and meet outside as we have seen with this type of virus that UV lights from the sun will help prevent the spread. 

If at any point you feel like you might have symptoms of coronavirus, call the national helpline available on the BAG website. It also has all the current information about the virus in Switzerland to keep you updated.