Rega forced to fly back Swiss patients who caught COVID abroad
Around 70 Swiss patients across Europe are waiting to be transferred back to Switzerland, mainly from Kosovo and the Balkan states after a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Swiss Air-Rescue transfers COVID-19 patients from Kosovo to Switzerland
Medicall AG made the claims as the emergency services in Switzerland ferried hundreds of people from their holiday destinations across Europe back to Switzerland over the last month.
People from Switzerland who go on vacation abroad have their medical costs covered through supplemental health insurance or through accident and occupational disease insurance. Crucially, the standard of medical care where they fell ill has to be similar to Switzerland, otherwise, they have the option to be flown back for treatment.
This has meant regular flights from Kosovo and other Balkan nations, with Blick reporting that Rega Swiss Air-Rescue had flown to the Kosovan capital Pristina 21 times in August. Medicall AG estimated that around 80 percent of people waiting for repatriation flights have COVID-19.
“COVID hell” was the headline of the newspaper 20 minuten, who said that the majority of cases were coming from holiday resorts within North Macedonia and Kosovo. Blick reported that many people travelled from Switzerland to Kosovo this summer, where they were met with packed flights and buses and engaged in what the newspaper described as "excessive and unrestrained partying."
Kosovo currently has few COVID restrictions, and Blick reported that fake COVID certificates are being used to enter the country. According to Steffen Bohn, Head of Medical Assistance at Medicall AG, the tourists in these countries threaten to “overflow the barrel” of ICU beds in Kosovo.
Intensive care units in Switzerland close to full
The repatriation flights are causing concern within Swiss hospitals, as many ICU facilities remain close to capacity. The healthcare system in Thurgau has been forced to move ICU patients to neighbouring counties (cantons).
Media spokesperson for the cantonal hospital in Aarau, Isabelle Wenzinger, confirmed that "there is currently no capacity in the intensive care unit.” University Hospital Zurich said that it accepts repatriated patients, but its ICU facilities were full.
The current spike in COVID-19 cases from abroad has caused alarm among politicians, who are now pushing for a vaccination assistance program for the Balkans. National Councillor for the Social Democratic Party, Barbara Gysi, said “Switzerland should support the Kosovar state with vaccination doses,” and that repatriation must take place as quickly as possible.