Shutdown or relaxation: What will Switzerland announce today?

Shutdown or relaxation: What will Switzerland announce today?
if shutdown is partially lifted, non-essential businesses like clothing stores could re-open. Photo by AFP
Swiss governmental and health officials are meeting on Wednesday to discuss extending the country's coronavirus measures, with some relaxations possible.
The Federal Council is consulting with cantonal health authorities about whether Switzerland’s current Covid-19 restrictions should be lifted from March 1st or remain in place. The decision is due on Wednesday, February 17th. 

The current measures, taken to curtail the spread of coronavirus and its new mutations, have been in effect since January 18th.

They include the closing of all restaurants, non-essential businesses, as well as cultural and leisure facilities.

There is also a five-person limit on private and public gatherings, along with a ‘work from home’ obligation for anyone who is able to do so. 

EXPLAINED: What are the details of Switzerland's coronavirus restrictions? 

The restrictions were supposed to stay in place until February 28th, but authorities have hinted in the meantime that the measures may not be lifted on this date.

So what announcement is the Federal Council likely to make on Wednesday?

There are three possible scenarios.

End of shutdown

This would imply that all the restrictions currently in place will be lifted. This is what many politicians, business groups, and anti-Covid campaigners would like to happen.

However, this strategy is unrealistic and against the advice of epidemiologists, given that the virus and its mutations are still circulating in Switzerland.

Restrictions will be maintained

There is a possibility this could happen.

Health Minister Alain Berset indicated last week that current rules would not only be extended, but that a range of tighter measures was also being considered to contain the spread of the more contagious forms of mutated viruses.

Berset is reportedly concerned that without urgent action, there will be very high numbers of infections in May, June and July.

At the very minimum, Switzerland could extend the existing coronavirus measures beyond their current expiration date of February 28th.

READ MORE: Swiss Health Minister accused of hiding crucial coronavirus information 

Restrictions will be partly lifted

This seems like the most realistic scenario right now, based on Berset’s latest comments.

On Friday he indicated that the Federal Council hadn’t ruled out a relaxation of at least some of the existing measures, although he didn’t specify which ones were going to be eased.

It is, however, likely that the measures will be lifted gradually over time rather than all at once.
This is the strategy proposed on Monday by Economiesuisse, an umbrella organisation for Switzerland’s businesses.

“Instead of fighting the pandemic with strict and sometimes arbitrary bans, the Federal Council should now make its decisions based on the vaccination coverage of the population”, the organisation said.

It suggested that shutdown should be phased out gradually in four steps starting, on March 1st, with lifting of the five-person limit, allowing restaurants to reopen their outdoor spaces, and authorising stores selling non-essential products to resume their activities. Also, working from home should no longer be compulsory but recommended.

After that, the rest of the restrictions should be lifted gradually as more people get vaccinated and develop immunity, Economiesuisse said.

READ MORE: What are the fines for breaking shutdown rules in Switzerland? 


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