New sanitary rules set for rail passengers between Switzerland and Italy

Trains between Switzerland and Italy are circulating again, but new measures are in place.

New sanitary rules set for rail passengers between Switzerland and Italy
Rules are in place for passengers going to Italy. Photo by AFP.

Authorities from both countries announced last week that all cross-border rail services would halt because COVID-19 safety checks couldn't be guaranteed.  

An Italian government decree requires that train operators carry out temperature checks on passengers, who also must show they’ve tested negative for the Covid-19, and have a self-declaration form justifying travel to Italy.

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) said its personnel does not have the capacity to carry out such checks.

But just days later, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga and Italian Minister of Transport Paola De Micheli decided that the EuroCity services between the two countries would be maintained to a limited extent.

The two parties announced on Sunday that they have worked out a system of health checks that will allow the train traffic to continue.

They will mandate the Italian police to carry out sporadic checks on trains, including on the Swiss side.

To cross the border, passengers will have to have a temperature test, a negative coronavirus test, and a certificate to explain reasons for travel.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Cross-border train service between Switzerland and Italy to continue running 

However, cross-border workers returning to Italy from their jobs in Switzerland will be exempted from the obligation to carry the form.

“This requirement would have been problematic in view of the regional objectives around the mobility and the quality of life of people who live on both sides of the border”, said Norman Gobbi, president of Ticino’s cantonal government.

In all, 70,000 Italians work in Ticino. 

Those who commute by train rather than by car use regional TILO trains, which connect Ticino with the Italian region of Lombardy.

From December 13th, when the new SBB timetable came into effect, two pairs of EuroCity trains run on the Gotthard axis and two pairs on the Simplon axis. 

• EC 313 dp. Zurich 07:10, arr. Milan 10:50 am
• EC 316 dp Milan 11:10, arr. Zurich 2:50 p.m.
• EC 34 dp Milan 13:05, arr. Geneva 5:21 p.m.
• EC 37 dp Geneva 07:39, arr. Milan 11:40 am
• EC 50 dp Milan 07:20, arr. Basel 11:32 am
• EC 57 dp Basel 12:28, arr. Milan 4:40 p.m.

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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.