Pandemic hospital duty tests Swiss civil defense

Civil protection agents Karim Melliti and Mehdi Ben Khaelifa perform an antigenic rapid test at the screening center of La Tour Hospital as Swiss civil protection agents are deployed to help during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland

Sent by the government to support the hard-pressed Swiss healthcare system, members of the civil defense corps are on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19, helping out in emergency rooms and handling bodies.

Civil defense workers are part of the Swiss system of compulsory national service for all able-bodied men.

“I volunteered for these missions because I wanted to help people, to do my part in this crisis,” said 32-year-old Mehdi Ben Khaelifa from Geneva, who joined the corps a decade ago.

The medical marijuana specialist and his fellow civil protection colleagues are now helping Switzerland cope with the sick and dying.

“We prepared ourselves, we tried to look at the pictures in advance. Clearly we were worried because I have never worked in a morgue, or even seen one, but to see several patients every day, helping the morgue staff with the influx…,” he said.

The civil defense service has set up teams of psychologists to help colleagues handle the emotional burden. One was waiting this week outside a testing centre at La Tour hospital.

“Sometimes they see or experience very difficult situations and the fact that they can share their emotional or psychological distress with us, well, we are quite satisfied because when we talk we see they feel better, more relaxed,” said psychologist Cindy Becerra, 26

“There is some recognition and it feels good. To see we can help people, there are no words for this,” said Karim Melliti, 35, an unemployed banker.

“As soon as I finish, I’m going for a run to clear my mind because the days are quite hard. We see things that are difficult. People are sick, there are deaths.”

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