‘It’s busier than normal’: Geneva’s barbers and florists reopen for business

Barbers were doing a roaring trade among shaggy-haired customers on Monday as Switzerland started to ease restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic.

'It's busier than normal': Geneva's barbers and florists reopen for business
Photo by Will Truettner on Unsplash

The Swiss stopped short of full confinement in emergency measures introduced last month to combat the spread of COVID-19.

But on Monday the country started the first of a three-stage lifting of the restrictions, requiring affected businesses to put in place protection plans for their customers and employees.

Doctors' surgeries, dentists, nursery schools, hairdressers and massage and beauty salons were permitted to reopen, along with hardware stores, garden centres and florists.

In Geneva, hairdressers were up early to get started on the long list of clients seeking a welcome trim.

Wearing a fabric mask and a plastic face shield, Anita Ayma, boss at the Anita Coiffure salon, was working through a 12-hour string of bookings.

Just inside the door, a homemade sign next to a dispenser bottle read: “Please disinfect your hands and put on a mask. Thank you.”

Bookings filling up

“My regulars are very dear to me but we have to keep our distance and can't kiss upon greeting,” Ayma told AFP.

“I'm delighted that we're starting up again. If we don't work, things are dead.”

Ayma said she was reliant on the state financial support for businesses forced to close.

Customer Sergey Ostrovsky said: “Super! I'm very happy!”, as he ran his hands through his newly-cropped hair.

“The last day before the lockdown, I didn't have time to come. A minute after I heard they were reopening, I booked an appointment,” the 44-year-old music professor said.

A nearby Mod's hair branch was doing brisk trade, with busy staff, the phone ringing constantly and pencilled-in bookings rapidly filling up the weeks ahead.

“We've got work on,” said hairdresser Ines. “It's busier than a normal Monday. Clients were here as we opened.

“We respect all the rules: two metres between customers, disinfectant, we disinfect each chair after each client.”

Every second chair in the salon was left empty to ensure physical distancing.

Florists' new risk

More than 29,000 people in Switzerland have tested positive for coronavirus, while more than 1,300 have died in the landlocked European country of 8.5 million people.

Geneva has the Alpine nation's highest positive test rate, at more than one in 100 people.

It wasn't just hairdressers who were happy to return to work on Monday.

Fragrant multi-coloured bouquets of roses, hortensias and bellflowers were back outside Phillippe Wuillemin's reopened florist's shop.

During the lockdown, Wuillemin Fleuristes took telephone bookings and did deliveries but the shop had to close.

“All our contracts were cancelled. We had one person working out of seven. We were keeping up appearances,” said Wuillemin.

“We're pleased to be open again but now it's a new challenge, a risk, because we don't know if we'll do any business.

“It's a perishable product. I can put out a choice of flowers, but are they going to sell?” he said, with most people still staying at home.

However, customers have been popping in.

“Plenty of people have come. They're so happy because they have missed having flowers in the house.”

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.