Why one rebellious canton could see new shutdown imposed across whole of Switzerland

In defiance of the federal government’s order for some Swiss cantons to tighten their coronavirus rules, Aargau said it has no plans to do so. This might lead to some serious repercussions for the rest of the country.

Why one rebellious canton could see new shutdown imposed across whole of Switzerland
Aargau's refusal to follow to follow the rules could shut down thew whole country. Photo by AFP

On Saturday Health Minister Alain Berset told cantons with rapidly increasing contamination rates to urgently mandate stricter measures against the pandemic by December 11th.

This order particularly applies to Aargau, Thurgau and Solothurn, although Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Basel-Country, Schwyz, Zurich, and Ticino are also concerned .

Most of the cantons said they would introduce more restrictions. But as reported by Swiss media, Aargau’s authorities announced on Monday that they wouldn’t take any measures for the time being “as there is no urgency to do so”.

Jean-Pierre Gallati, who is in charge of Aargau’s health department said cantonal authorities will wait to see how new restrictions work in other cantons before making any decisions.

When asked whether this approach is not too passive, Gallati reportedly responded, “I don’t care”.

READ MORE: What are the new Covid-19 hotspots in Switzerland right now?



However, Aargau’s obstinence could have an impact on the entire country.

If the canton doesn’t introduce stricter measures, “the Federal Council could impose nationwide tightening,” said Rainer Schweizer, professor emeritus of constitutional law at the University of St. Gallen.

Because of the specificity of Swiss law, “it is unlikely that the government will only tighten the rules in defaulting cantons”, he said.

Aargau should respect the federal order “out of fairness to other cantons. Otherwise, the selfishness of one canton could mean that even cantons with low numbers of infections will have to impose stricter rules”, Schweizer added.

To order a national shutdown, the Federal Council would have to declare the state of emergency, as it had during the first wave of the pandemic in March.

Berset ordered the tightening of measures in a video conference with cantons on Saturday. 

The move is driven by the increasing number of Covid-19 infections in various German-speaking cantons and in Ticino. 

In contrast, the French-speaking cantons that implemented tough measures in November recorded lower numbers. 

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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.