At the end of February, Switzerland is preparing to reopen its non-essential businesses, before its restaurants and its cinemas, all in favor of an epidemiological situation of which all indicators are turning green. Almost all of them, because the threat of variants still looms over Europe. Scientists rightly call for the establishment, as quickly as possible, of a genuine genetic surveillance network for viruses circulating in Switzerland.
What are we talking about? A “pipeline” that collects samples of viral genomes identified as positive during screening and routes them to high throughput sequencing platforms. A computer network ensures a collection of the sequences obtained and allows them to be compared with other sequences identified in Switzerland or elsewhere, in order to immediately detect the emergence of worrying variants because they are more contagious or escape vaccines.
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Denmark, champion of sequencing
European champion in this area, Denmark has made genetic surveillance a pillar of its anti-covid strategy. It was thanks to this that the existence was discovered, in mink farms, of a variant of SARS-CoV-2 capable of escaping vaccines, triggering an immediate and massive slaughter of animals in order to ‘avoid spreading to humans.
In Geneva too, genomic surveillance has proved its worth. It was there that the first so-called Brazilian variant was discovered on Swiss soil. Such information made it possible to take the lead and prevent its further spread.
Switzerland has the means to achieve its ambitions. It has comfortable sequencing capabilities and qualified diagnostic laboratories. Bioinformatics analyzes, used in particular to compare genomes, have already been validated. The cost is not an obstacle either: sequencing 2,500 genomes per week would cost 160,000 francs, a derisory sum compared to the cost of a new confinement which amounts to billions.
Scientists are in the starting blocks, all that is needed is the political will to make this plan a reality. Collective immunity conferred by vaccination becomes a tangible goal. All means must be implemented so as not to miss this way out.