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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

Switzerland: How likely is another Covid-19 wave this fall?

Over the border in France, experts say a new wave of Covid in autumn is 'virtually certain', but in Switzerland authorities seem less worried.

Switzerland: How likely is another Covid-19 wave this fall?

After a relative lull in the pandemic in the spring, Covid-19 cases surged at the beginning of the summer, driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron sub-variants.

The weekly reports on the epidemiological situation from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) show that the number of new cases kept steadily increasing until about the middle of July, when it peaked at about 56,000 new cases reported in Switzerland in a single week.

From then on, the numbers have been dropping steadily, with 18,204 new infections recorded this week.

What can we expect in the coming weeks and months?

One thing we have learned in the past two and a half years is that coronaviruses are unpredictable, and their evolution (or the emergence of new sub-variants) can’t be forecast with a high degree of certainty.

For instance, health experts did not foresee this summer’s outbreak, believing – based on the experiences of previous waves – that infections are more common in the autumn and winter when cold weather drives people indoors.

READ MORE: ‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

It is also difficult to predict what new sub-variants and mutations could emerge in the future, or what properties they will have.

Next wave and hospitals

Health officials in neighbouring France believe that a surge of Covid cases in the autumn is ‘virtually certain’.

Given the geographic proximity and the flow of people between the two countries, it is reasonable to expect the same scenario to unfold in Switzerland as well.

However, Swiss experts say they believe that even if there is a new wave, most people will have only mild or moderate symptoms.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, said Tanya Stadler, former head of the Covid-19 Task Force.

Based on the current evolution and forecasts, authorities say they don’t expect the health system to be overloaded with new Covid patients.

This is because “circulating sub-variants of Omicron do not cause more severe forms of the disease than the previous sub-variants”, the government said.

Vaccines

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine (representing a fourth dose for most people) is already available to people in high-risk groups, but while authorities are urging people to get vaccinated, they also say that if Omicron remains the dominant variant, no mass vaccinations will be needed in the near future.

“The current vaccine does not provide clear protection against the Omicron”, according to Giuseppe Pantaleo, head of the immunology unit at Vaud university hospital (CHUV).

That may change soon, however: both Pfizer and Moderna have asked Switzerland’s drug regulatory body, Swissmedic, to authorise their Omicron-adapted vaccines.

The agency is now reviewing the applications but once approved,  the new vaccines are expected to be used for the second round of booster shots, with the rollout for general public to begin sometime in the fall.

READ MORE: Covid boosters not available in Switzerland until autumn

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