Switzerland to extend coronavirus measures until end of February
Switzerland on Wednesday decided it will extend coronavirus measures, including the continued closure of bars, restaurants, gyms and museums, until the end of February.
The government will start a consultation process with cantons - which will include considering imposing stricter measures - with a final decision to be made on January 13th.
Several measures are set to be extended until the end of February.
This includes the closure of fitness centres, restaurants and museums.
One important change however would be that “role model cantons” - i.e. cantons with a lower infection rate - would no longer be granted an exception to the measures.
As The Local Switzerland reported on Monday, several French-speaking cantons had been given an exception to the national measures due to lower R-Rates.
This allowed them to avoid putting in place the federal measures - provided their R-rate stayed below 1.
This exception was however rescinded as these infection rates climbed.
Will stricter measures come into effect?
At the announcement, Swiss authorities said they had put a number of stricter measures to the cantons for consultation.
These could be adopted nationwide, or they could be put in place in specific cantons if the situation deteriorates.
The possible measures include an obligation to work from home, closure of all non-essential shops - defined as “shops that do not sell everyday goods” - school closures, further restrictions on gatherings in public and private, along with other measures to improve the protection of particularly vulnerable people.
'The situation remains tense'
"The epidemiological situation remains tense: the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as the burden on health workers, remains very high," the government said in a statement.
Switzerland, population 8.6 million, recorded nearly 4,800 new cases and 65 new deaths on Wednesday, taking its totals to 468,427 cases and 7,400 fatalities.
The Federal Council said it could not see case numbers decreasing significantly in coming weeks and therefore envisaged extending the measures first imposed in late December.
Furthermore, the discovery of "new, more contagious" coronavirus variants in Britain and South Africa "increases the likelihood of an upsurge".
Economic help on the way
The government said it would take steps to mitigate the economic consequences of extending the restrictions.
From Saturday it was ending exemptions from the existing rules for cantons where the virus was less prevalent.
"The Federal Council thus wants to prevent shopping tourism and gastronomic tourism between cantons and strengthen acceptance of the measures," it said.
Switzerland has found the new coronavirus mutation in 28 samples -- all people who arrived from Britain, or people with whom they had been in contact.
"This new variant could behave like a new pandemic within the pandemic," Virginie Masserey, head of the health ministry's infection control department, said Tuesday.
Switzerland was the first continental western European country to start its Covid-19 vaccination campaign, doing so on December 23 with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
With the doses already received from manufacturers, Switzerland can vaccinate the most vulnerable 2.7 percent of the population, said Health Minister Alain Berset.