Three more Swiss cantons tighten coronavirus rules as infections increase

Faced with a significant increase of Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations, the Swiss cantons of Jura, Fribourg and Neuchâtel are implementing new restrictions starting on October 23rd.

Three more Swiss cantons tighten coronavirus rules as infections increase
Masks are now mandated in all public spaces in Switzerland. Photo by AFP

In its press release on Friday, cantonal authorities announced that Jura is now “among the most critical regions” in Europe.

As of Friday morning 50 coronavirus patients are hospitalised in the canton, up from 11 one week ago.

Meetings, gatherings or demonstrations of more than 15 people, including children, will now be prohibited. Restaurants, cafés and bars must close at 10pm.

In these establishments, a maximum of four people can be seated at the same table, with the exception of people living in the same household. Late night bars and clubs must remain closed.

Team and contact sports are banned with the exception of professional private practice and individual training. Fitness centres must remain closed. Ski camps, sports camps, and study trips are suspended.

Wearing a mask is compulsory at all times in the workplace, both in public and private companies. It is also mandatory for students in the perimeter of secondary and post-compulsory schools when they are not seated in class.

In Fribourg, gatherings of more than 10 people in public and private spaces will be banned, the Council of State said in a statement on Friday. This ban particularly applies to events such as political, cultural and civil demonstrations.

Nightclubs, cabarets casino, gaming rooms, billiards, bowling, and other entertainment facilities will be closed. All other establishments must close at 11pm and can only accommodate groups of four people per table, unless the customers live in the same household.

Neuchâtel raised its alert level to red on Friday, meaning that the outbreaks of Covid-19 are spreading at an alarming rate. 

Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited in public and private spaces, with the exception of funerals.

Public establishments must close by 11 pm at the latest.

In restaurants, the number of people is limited to a maximum of four per table,  with the exception of people living in the same household. Gyms, wellness centres, swimming pools and bowling alleys are closed.

READ MORE: Valais implements 'Switzerland's strictest' lockdown measures as infection rates 

The new restrictions in the three cantons are in addition to the national ones implemented by the Federal Council on October 19th in response to Switzerland’s skyrocketing infection rate. 

They include mask requirement in all indoor public spaces, capping public gatherings at 15 people, and private events at 100. 

However, if the numbers get out of hand, authorities will “consider more drastic measures”, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga warned.

This could mean a ‘mini lockdown’, if the infection curve does not flatten out soon, Sommaruga said.

In addition to nationwide measures, each canton can implement its own stricter rules, above and beyond those mandated by the federal government, Sommaruga pointed out.

For instance, canton Bern announced  the ban on events involving more than 1,000 people, even though such gatherings are currently authorised, under stringent conditions, in the rest of the country. 

And Valais, where the infection rate has soared, mandated new measures from October 22nd. 

They include the closure of bars, nightclubs, brothels, cinemas, theatres, museums, libraries, public swimming pools, and bowling alleys.



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OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.