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Covid-19: What’s new in Switzerland from Monday

From the end of quarantine for arrivals from France and two other countries, to new coronavirus restrictions in Basel, this is what’s happening in Switzerland this week.

Covid-19: What's new in Switzerland from Monday
The number of infections is increasing in Basel.Photo by AFP

End of quarantine for three countries

In September the Swiss government placed several French departments on its list of high-risk regions, requiring arrivals from those areas to self-quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in Switzerland.

However, starting on November 23rd, all the regions of mainland France have been removed from the quarantine list.

Travellers from Belgium and Armenia are also exempted from the requirement from Monday.

At this time, quarantine is compulsory only for arrivals from the Austrian states of Salzburg and Upper Austria, as well as Andorra, the Czech Republic, Luxemburg, and Montenegro.

New restrictions in Basel

Basel City is implementing stricter coronavirus measures from Monday, as infections continue to rise in the northern canton. 

Restaurants, cafes and bars will be required to close under the new rules, but work and school canteens, along with hotel restaurants for guests and street kitchens will be allowed to remain open.

Restaurants and cafes will also be allowed to serve takeaway food, although there will be a curfew on these services from 11 pm to 5 am. 

Casinos and other gaming rooms, strip clubs, brothels, gyms, fitness centres, indoor swimming pools, dance studios, and ice rinks are also shutting down. 

Events are restricted to 15 people. 

READ MORE: What are the coronavirus measures in every Swiss canton?

However, beauty service providers such as hairdressers and massage therapists will be allowed to remain open. 

The restrictions introduced in Basel are similar to those mandated at the beginning of November in the French-speaking cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Valais, Jura, Fribourg, and Neuchâtel.

Those regions have been the heaviest-hit by the coronavirus infection rate, while most of the Swiss-German regions have not been as impacted.

Rules are extended in Valais

On Friday Valais has decided to extend most of the health restrictions until December 13th, because the number of cases remains too high.

However, the cantonal government said it would relax some measures from December 1st.

For instance, it increased the number of people allowed to attend religious services from 10 to 50 — as long as protective measures like facemasks and distance rules are obeyed.

On the same date, visits to nursing homes and hospitals will be authorised “under strict conditions, limitations which may be set according to the health situation of the institution concerned”.

 

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COVID-19 ALERT

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.

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