‘An absurd situation’: Swiss retailers left baffled by shop closing rules

Starting on Monday, all non-essential stores in Switzerland must close their doors and stay shut until the end of February. But many retailers say the rules are very confusing.

'An absurd situation': Swiss retailers left baffled by shop closing rules
There's confusion as to what to put in this bag. Photo by AFP

The Swiss Federal Council has designated these businesses as “essential” and allowed to continue their activities: 

  • Grocery and other stores, provided that they sell food or other basic necessities and everyday consumption goods 
  • Pharmacies, drugstores and stores that sell medical devices
  • Repair and maintenance shops, such as laundries, sewing shops, shoemakers, locksmith services, as well as car and bicycle shops, as long as they offer a repair service
  • Hardware and gardening stores 
  • Flower shops
  • Fuel stations
  • Beauty and wellness services

Curiously, items such as perfumes, cosmetics, kitchen utensils, tableware, envelopes, house plants and flowers, photo equipment, and gardening tools are also classified by the government as essential goods.

READ MORE: 'Everyday goods': Which shops can stay open in Switzerland from Monday? 

But retailers say that the list drawn up by the Federal Council lacks coherence.

One reason is that the same shop can sell certain items but not others.

For instance, Daniel Wagmann, owner of a kitchen store in Solothurn told 20 Minutes news site he doesn’t understand why he is allowed to sell utensils, but the sale of light bulbs is banned. 

“Why does a perfume store have the right to open when I don't have the right to sell light bulbs? he asked.

“If the government wants to lock everything down, it should do it right, instead of making this complicated for non-food businesses”, he added.

Christa Markwalder, president of Swiss Retail Federation, also said the rules make no sense.

 “We are facing an absurd situation. One of our members, for example, had been denounced for selling potted basil, banned because it was considered a plant, while basil leaves in sachets were authorised”, she pointed out.

Mike Schüpbach, a legal expert at the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) conceded the government’s list “is a compromise that may seem contradictory to some”.

Patrick Mathys, head of FOPH’s infection control unit also admitted to 20 Minutes that the epidemiological effectiveness of new measures could not be “verified precisely”.

The closing of non-essential businesses is part of a set of measures being implemented from January 18th in an effort to rein in the spread of the new variants of the Covid virus.

READ MORE: Switzerland to impose stricter coronavirus measures from Monday 

They also include mandatory working from home, and a limit of up to five people for private and public get-togethers.


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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.