Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset announced on Wednesday some of the country’s coronavirus measures would be relaxed.
The relaxations will take place in stages on the first of each month, dependent of course on low infection rates – particularly with regard to new mutations of the virus.
“The Federal Council is aiming to achieve a gradual normalisation of social and economic life, and at the same time avoid a third wave of the disease,” it said in a statement.
A consequence of the announcement is that all measures which are not relaxed from March 1st will be extended until the end of March.
More information on the measures is available at the following link:
What will happen from March 1st?
At a press conference in Bern on Wednesday, Berset said the rule on meeting in groups outdoors would be relaxed from five to 15 people.
Non-essential shops, museums, libraries, zoos and botanical gardens will also again be allowed to open.
Sports facilities – including football pitches, ice rinks, tennis courts and skate parks – are again allowed to open, however only groups up to a maximum of five people are allowed.
Bars, restaurants and sporting events must remain closed to the public however, Berset announced.
Switzerland’s existing coronavirus measures are set to expire on February 28th, meaning that the above mentioned relaxations will come into effect from March 1st.
“From March 1, shops, museums and library reading rooms should be allowed to reopen, as well as outside spaces at zoos and botanical gardens, and at sports and leisure facilities,” the government said in a statement.
What will happen from April 1st?
Further relaxations will be made on April 1st, Berset said.
Provided infection numbers remain low, the federal government plans to allow restaurants with gardens and terraces to reopen.
Indoor sports will again be allowed – although they will likely be subject to number restrictions – while attendance cultural and sporting events will again be allowed.
“Further reopening phases will follow at monthly intervals as long as the epidemiological situation allows. That way, there is sufficient time between phases to monitor developments,” the government said in a statement.
“More activities should be permitted progressively if infection rates are favourable and as vaccination rates rise.”
Nearly 543,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Switzerland, population 8.6 million, while more than 9,000 people have died. More than 100,000 people have already received both their anti-Covid vaccine doses.
The number of new infections, hospital admissions and deaths has continued to fall in recent weeks but the rate is expected to start slowing up.
The percentage of new infections due to the variants of the virus is doubling every 10 to 14 days.
Switzerland announced Wednesday that it ended 2020 with a record-breaking budget deficit of 15.8 billion Swiss francs ($17.6 billion, 14.6 billion euros), which it said was due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is the background to the announcement?
Leading up to the announcement, Berset was under pressure to wind back many of the country’s coronavirus measures amid a steady decline in case numbers and hospitalisations across the country.
However, as The Local Switzerland predicted on Tuesday, concerns about coronavirus mutations pushed Berset to take a more conservative approach.
Berset appealed for “a little patience” from the Swiss public, saying a widespread opening up too much too soon would mean Switzerland risked losing the built up over the recent shutdown.
How will decisions be made?
The planned openings will be allowed if infection rates remain low. This means that all of the following will be taken into account, but none of the metrics are 'automatic'.
Specifically, the 'positivity rate' – i.e. the percentage of coronavirus tests which are positive – must remain below five percent.
The occupancy rates in intensive care units must be below 25 percent.
The reproduction rate (r-rate) – i.e. the average number of people infected by each infected person – must remain below one over the previous seven days.
Another key metric in deciding to pursue further openings in April is that the 14-day incidence – i.e. the number of people infected per 100,000 people in Switzerland – is lower on March 24th than on the 1st of March.