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DIPLOMACY

Swiss summon Sri Lankan envoy over worker’s abduction

Switzerland has summoned Sri Lanka's ambassador and asked to see the "purported evidence" that Colombo says casts doubt on claims by a Swiss embassy staff member that she was abducted.

Swiss summon Sri Lankan envoy over worker's abduction

Envoy Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who is based in Berlin, met Switzerland's State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl in Bern on Monday, a statement said. 

The diplomatic spat began when a senior Sri Lanka police officer sought asylum in Switzerland after investigating several cases involving members of the powerful Rajapaksa family — Gotabaya Rajapaksa currently serves as president.

The next day a local worker at the Swiss embassy in Colombo claimed she had been abducted and forced to hand over sensitive information —  reportedly including the names of Sri Lankans who had sought asylum in Switzerland.

According to the Swiss foreign ministry, the woman was “threatened by unidentified men” and forced “to disclose embassy-related information”.

On Sunday, Sri Lanka sought to raise doubts about the Swiss narrative, claiming ambassador Hanspeter Mock had been given “clear evidence” that the staff member's account did not add up. But in a statement issued late on Monday the Swiss foreign ministry indicated that such proof had not been shared.

The state secretary “asked Ambassador Hettiarachchi to explain the purported evidence against the events described by the embassy, which the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs had alluded to”, the statement said.

Meanwhile, Colombo Chief Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne has ordered the woman to make a statement to investigators by December 9 after police said they needed to interview her. The magistrate restricted her travel abroad until December 9.

The Swiss repeated that it supported Sri Lanka's desire to investigate the matter but reiterated that “the employee concerned still cannot be questioned on health grounds”.

The Sri Lankan government this week alerted airport immigration authorities to stop any police officer leaving the country without permission.

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SWITZERLAND

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place. 

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