Despite falling case numbers, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset is set to push for a stricter set of coronavirus measures – as well as an extension beyond February 28th – when federal authorities meet with their cantonal counterparts on Friday.
The major reason is the prevalence of the coronavirus mutation in Switzerland, which Berset fears has the possibility to continue to surge in the coming months.
Swiss authorities expect the coronavirus mutations to replace the known examples of coronavirus by March to become the dominant strains.
A source told the NZZ newspaper that Berset is concerned that without urgent action, “there will be very high numbers of infections in May, June and July”.
By adopting harsher measures now, Switzerland can expect fewer measures to carry through to the summer.
At the very minimum, Switzerland is expected to extend the existing coronavirus measures beyond their current expiration date of February 28th.
What is expected to be tightened?
Other than the continuation of the current measures, a range of tightenings are being considered to curb the spread of the mutation.
Top cantonal doctor Rudolf Hauri, a leading voice in the lockdown efforts, has flagged a number of areas which could be tightened.
“The situation remains difficult because the activity of the coronavirus mutations is increasing despite drastic measures,” Hauri told the Tages Anzeiger.
Hauri pointed to the closure of schools and ski areas as a possible and realistic way the government could curb the spread of the mutation.
Schools have been shuttered for months in neighbouring Germany, while ski fields in many European countries have not been allowed to open this winter.
In addition, Hauri flagged the closure of shops other than grocery stores as a possible way of curbing infections.
Stay at home orders, compulsory FFP2 masks, further contact restrictions, stricter working from home requirements and other measures are being considered.
Neighbouring Austria put in place a 24-hour stay at home order in December which stayed in place until early February.
“It comes down to the fact that further efforts are necessary,” Hauri said.
Will anything be relaxed?
Whether Berset will be able to get the measures approved by the Federal Council remains to be seen, given the resistance from other parties.
The FDP's Marcel Dobler said given that infection rates were currently falling “tightening is unacceptable”.
A government source told the NZZ that the announcement is expected to be accompanied by “a little bit of sugar”, i.e. symbolic relaxations that make the extensions and tightenings a little easier to take.
Non-essential shops, cultural facilities along with sports will see gradual relaxations.
Bars and restaurants would not be allowed to open until a second step in the relaxations – with smaller events being again possible in the third round of relaxations.
A complete relaxation of measures is only expected when a majority of Swiss have been vaccinated. Switzerland wants to vaccinate 5.5 million people – or around 75 percent of the population – by June.
Testing is expected to be expanded across the country as a way of isolating clusters. Several cantons including Aargau, Graubünden, Vaud, Zug and Basel Country have begun or announced some form of mass testing in recent days.