‘Anyone could be quarantined’: Switzerland repeats advice not to travel abroad
Swiss health officials have defended their decision to retrospectively expand the list of ‘high risk’ countries, saying that anyone departing Switzerland should do so with the understanding that they may be forced to quarantine on their return.
On Wednesday, July 22nd, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health added 15 countries to the mandatory quarantine list while removing two others, bringing the total number to 42.
Controversially, the new additions were given retrospective effect, meaning that people who returned before the announcement will now be forced to quarantine - even if they have been in the community for days.
Stefan Kuster from the Federal Office of Public Health said that anyone departing Switzerland should do so with the understanding that they may be forced to quarantine on their return.
Despite international travel now permitted for over a month, Kuster reiterated the government’s position that unnecessary trips abroad be avoided.
"We don't know if another country is on the list the day after tomorrow,” Kuster said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The infection numbers in destination countries can change rapidly, which may force the government to impose the mandatory quarantine on all who return from the country.
An estimated 6,000 people are currently in quarantine in Switzerland. Despite fines of up to 10,000 francs, more than half of returnees from high-risk countries have failed to quarantine.
Why does it apply retrospectively?
Swiss health authorities said countries with more than 60 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days would be added to the list, with the list subject to continual review.
This means that while travellers and returnees will not have known their destination country is on the list when a decision is made, they still pose a danger as they have been in a country with a ‘high risk’ infection rate.
Speaking with Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes, Kuster said the quarantine would apply to people who travelled to any of the countries before they were announced - or to anyone who has returned home from these countries recently.
"The regulation applies retrospectively", said Kuster.
"When you go on vacation, you have to be aware that things can go wrong."
Effectively, this means that anyone who has returned from these countries recently must go into quarantine as of midnight on July 22nd, until at ten days from their arrival date.
For example, someone who returned from Mexico or Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 20th and has already been in the community must go into quarantine from midnight until July 30th.
Which countries were added to the list?
In total, 15 countries or territories were added to the list, the majority of which came from outside Europe.
These are (in order of highest infection rate to lowest infection rate): Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Kazakstan, Costa Rica, Maldives, Palestine, Guatemala, Suriname, Eswatini, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador and the United Arab Emirates.
Which countries were removed?
Sweden and Belarus were removed from the list.
Sweden had been added due to its high infection rate, a result of the country's refusal to follow its neighbours into lockdown.
Sweden last week retaliated by issuing travel advice to its citizens to avoid Switzerland, which the government admitted was made as a political move.
In an interview with the Tages Anzeiger on Monday, head infectious disease specialist from St Gallen Hospital Pietro Vernazza called for Sweden to be removed from the list.
Sweden's infection rate has plunged in recent weeks and now sits just below the criteria limit, with 57 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.
What is the complete list?
Adding the new countries to those previously on the list - while removing Sweden and Belarus - the current list of 42 countries is as follows: Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Israel, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Oman, Palestine, Panama, Peru, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Suriname, Serbia, South Africa, Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.