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EXPLAINED: What are the rules for February holidays in Switzerland?

Going on a holiday in February? This is what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for February holidays in Switzerland?
Measures are in place in ski resorts to avoid overcrowding. Photo by AFP

As winter vacation is starting in some Swiss cantons and will continue in others until the end of the month, new regulations are in place for those heading to the mountains.

Skiing holidays in February are a longstanding family tradition in Switzerland. Cars with skis on the roof are heading towards Alpine resorts all across the country.

This year, however, the holidays are regulated by various rules and restrictions that resorts and ski areas are implementing to rein in the spread of coronavirus and its various mutations.

The five-person rule in rented accommodation

Since mid-January only a maximum of five people, including children, have been allowed to meet in private. 

If you have a large family, or want to rent a flat together with friends, you will not be allowed to do so by the landlord.

If you reserved the place before the five-person rule went into effect, you can try to get a refund. If that is not feasible for contractual reasons, then your travel insurance may refund the cost of cancellation, but check the conditions first.

What if you don’t obey the rule and accommodate more than five people in the apartment? There is a chance you will get away with it, as resort officials rely on personal responsibility rather than on door-to-door controls.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that anyone should break the rules. The more people crammed in an apartment, the more risk there is of spreading the virus and creating a cluster of infection.

What if you stay in a hotel?

Hotels too must follow the five-person rule. This means no more than five people per room, even in the so-called ‘family rooms’, which can accommodate larger groups. 

Also, mask requirements are in place in all the common areas of the hotel, such as the lobby and the restaurant, when not seated.

While restaurants on ski slopes are closed, hotels are allowed to have dining facilities, but only for their guests, not for public at large.

What are the requirements on ski pistes?

As many people are expected to hit the slopes during the holidays, strict rules are in place.

The goal is to avoid crowds of people waiting in front of ski lifts, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

At the end of November, the Swiss Ski Lift Association created a set of rules that must be followed in all resorts open to skiers.

These measures include regulating queuing in such a way that it “runs in an orderly manner and without major clusters”.

Additionally, skiers must wear masks not only in closed spaces such as mountain trains and cable cars, but also on open-air chair lifts and T-bars, as well as in queues.

There will be lots of checks to make sure these rules are followed, especially since there had been numerous reports in January of skiers in various Swiss resorts causing health concerns by swarming around the lifts. 

The line of those waiting to get on the ski lift extended over 250 metres, and distances were difficult to respect.

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread 

What are some ski resorts doing to prevent the spread of coronavirus during the holidays?

Villars, a popular resort in Vaud, has launched a mass testing facility to detect positive cases. 

Anyone over the age of 12 can get tested for free. 

Two other Vaud resorts, Leysin and Les Diablerets are launching similar schemes. And mass testing is also underway in Wengen, a resort in canton Bern, as well as in Graubünden.

Are foreign tourists allowed to ski in Switzerland?

People from abroad can come to Switzerland, but stricter entry requirements are in force since February 8th.

These are the new rules:

Almost everyone who enters Switzerland must fill out the entry form online. Once this is done, you will receive a QR code which you should show at immigration and passport control if asked.

Some travellers are exempted from this requirement. They include people entering from France, Germany, Italy and Austria, as long as they are not travelling by air.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland's new travel and quarantine rules?

Anyone over the age of 12 arriving by air must present a negative PCR test, which is not older than 72 hours, before departure. You will not allowed to board the plane without it, regardless of which country you are arriving from.

A negative PCR test result must also be presented by anyone who has been in a country with an increased risk of infection, even if arriving by bus, train or car. 

The quarantine requirement is in place for people, including children, arriving from high risk regions. This means you should not come to Switzerland for the purpose of skiing, as the quarantine will cut your holidays by 10 or seven days.

 

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COVID-19

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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