Do Switzerland’s new coronavirus restrictions go far enough?

The Federal Council announced on Wednesday new rules to curtail the alarming increase in Covid-19 cases across Switzerland. But are these measures sufficient to flatten the curve of infections?

Do Switzerland’s new coronavirus restrictions go far enough?
Masks now have to be word in crowded outdoor spaces. Photo by AFP

Among the strategies implemented in Switzerland from midnight Wednesday is the requirement to wear masks outdoors in all urban areas where “the concentration of people does not allow the necessary distances to be respected”. 

There is also an 11pm curfew for bars and restaurants, the closure of nightclubs and discos, as well as the limit of 10 people for private gatherings and 50 for public events.

“We all want Switzerland to be able to manage and overcome this crisis as a united country,” Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga said at a press conference on Thursday. “No one wants to see another semi-lockdown.”

The new restrictions are not nearly as stringent as the ones implemented in the neighbouring countries, where rules range from the lockdown in France, shutdowns in Germany, and night curfews in some regions of Italy.

READ MORE: Switzerland announces sweeping new Covid-19 restrictions

However, a number of MPs and health experts interviewed in the Swiss media praised the government’s “proportionate and pragmatic” approach.

According to MP Marianne Maret, Switzerland should not necessarily follow the example of other nations.

“In the spring, these countries implemented total lockdowns, while Switzerland opted for semi-confinement. We came out of this situation just as well as they did, but with less damage to our economy,” she said in an interview on RTS public television. 

Another deputy, Jacqueline de Quattro, said on the same programme that “not all Swiss cantons have the same high infection rates as Geneva, Vaud and Valais. In the regions where the rates are lower, the new measures may even seem too drastic”.

For the infectiologist Andreas Cerny, “the measures will certainly lead to the infection curve flattening out”, he said in an interview with 20 Minuten news portal. 

“We learned from the spring lockdown that closures have probably done more harm than good,” he added. “The new measures won’t restrict our lives too much.”

Verny also pointed out that the Federal Council’s measures are ground rules, “and each individual canton can build on them. The cantons which are severely affected by the wave of infections must tighten their measures further”.

While the semi-confinement is the spring was relaxed after six weeks, “it won't be that fast this time around”, Verny predicted.

“Because the measures adopted are less drastic, they are likely to be retained for longer. The current restrictions will probably stay with us until spring”, he added.

Do you think these restrictions go far enough? Let us know by emailing: [email protected]





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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.