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Switzerland announces new Covid-19 rules for Christmas

In a press conference on Friday Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset laid out measures and recommendations for the festive season in Switzerland.

Switzerland announces new Covid-19 rules for Christmas
Swiss Christmas will be saved — but with some restrictions. Photo by AFP

Berset said that new rules will be implemented to keep the current epidemiologicall situation from degrading in a way “that we have to enforce a total lockdown in January”. 

These are the measures Berset announced:

Get-togethers

Meetings should be limited to 10 people, preferably consisting of two households or two families. This is not an obligation but it is a “very strong recommendation in order to be able to limit the risk of infection”, he said.

Fewer people in shops

In stores, the number of square metres per customer will rise from 4 to 10 starting on  December 9th to ensure more space and less people in stores at the same time.

The aim is to prevent clusters of people overcrowding the stores during the busy Christmas season.

Restaurants

On New Year’s Eve, restaurants will exceptionally be allowed to close at 1 am, instead of 11 pm as is currently the case.
 
It will remain compulsory for clients to give their personal details when entering restaurants for the purpose of contact tracing.
 
Skiing
 
The number of passengers in closed ski cabins will be lowered to two thirds of the usual capacity.
 
Also, while skiing is permitted in Switzerland, unlike in its neighbouring countries, Berset said resorts can open from December 22nd only if authorised by cantons.
 
The federal government will grant this authorisation to cantons  if the epidemiological situation allows it, and depending on hospital capacity in a given canton, as well as  the ability to undertake testing and contact tracing.

READ MORE: 'Not another Ischgl': Switzerland unveils plans to make ski slopes safer this winter

These rules are in addition to national and cantonal measures already in place to curb the spread of infections. 

On national level, they include the limit of 10 people for private and public get-togethers, as well as masks worn inside and outdoors in crowded spaces.

Some cantons, mostly in the French-speaking part of the country, went beyond rules mandated on the national level, and included the closure of bars and restaurants, as well as all entertainment and leisure venues like cinemas, theatres, fitness centres, swimming pools, and sports facilities. 

In Geneva, restrictions went even further, extending to the closure of all non-essential stores and businesses. 

In Switzerland, coronavirus cases jumped in early October as the second wave hit, and the government imposed restrictions.

Daily new case numbers have been falling since hitting a peak around the end of October.

However, “the epidemiological situation in Switzerland remains extremely serious”, the government said, with infection rates stagnating at a high level or even rising in some regions, while hospitals are “still extremely strained”.

 So far during the pandemic, 343,101 people have tested positive for the new 

coronavirus in Switzerland, while 4,832 people have died.


 
 

 

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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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