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COVID-19

Switzerland plans new restrictions as Covid-19 situation ‘deteriorates noticeably’

Switzerland said on Tuesday that its coronavirus situation was taking an exponential turn for the worse, having stabilised at a high level despite restrictions to counter the pandemic.

Switzerland plans new restrictions as Covid-19 situation 'deteriorates noticeably'
AFP

The government said it wanted to bring in new nationwide measures from Saturday, including a 7pm closing time for shops and restaurants — with total closure an option down the line if the situation does not improve rapidly.

“The epidemiological situation in Switzerland is noticeably deteriorating,” the government said in a statement.

“The number of infections is high and rising again, and the occupancy of intensive care beds remains very high.

“On average, 100 infected people infect more than 100 other people. This increases the number of cases again exponentially.”

The government said it would meet on Friday to set standardised Covid-19 control measures across the country, to apply from Saturday until January 20, if the country's cantons agree.

It is proposing that restaurants, shops, markets and leisure facilities close at 7pm and remain shut on Sundays.

It also proposes that five people from two households can gather for private events, with exceptions for celebrations for up to 10 people from December 24 to 26, and on December 31 for Christmas and New Year festivities.

Public events will be banned, with the exception of religious celebrations and legislative meetings.

“If the situation worsens further in the next week, the Federal Council plans to adopt further measures at its meeting on December 18, such as the closure of restaurants and shops,” it said.

“We do not want to find ourselves once again in a situation where there is not other alternative than closing everything down,” Health Minister Alain Berset told a press conference in the capital Bern.

Switzerland, population 8.6 million, has recorded more than 357,000 coronavirus infections and 5,000 deaths.

The country earlier announced that it had secured an additional three million doses of the Moderna vaccine as it tries to hedge its bets between rival Covid-19 jabs.

Switzerland has now secured, in total, around 7.5 million doses of US biotechnology firm Moderna's vaccine.

It has also signed contracts for around 5.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and, in a deal announced Monday, around three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The three different vaccines are currently awaiting approval from the Swissmedic national regulator.

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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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