Today in Switzerland: A round-up of the latest news on Thursday

Find out what's going on in Switzerland today with The Local's short round-up of the news.

Today in Switzerland: A round-up of the latest news on Thursday
Checks at borders will get more efficient. Photo by AFP

Restaurant industry ‘disappointed’ with government’s decision

The Federal Council’s decision not to re-open restaurants on March 1st “hit the hotel and restaurant industry hard”, industry association GastroSuisse said in a statement following the announcement on Wednesday afternoon. 

“There is no reason for restaurants to remain closed. The fact that there will be no easing in early March is a disaster. We are disappointed”, the association added.

The Local will publish an article about other reactions to Federal Council’s decision on Thursday.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s new 'relaxed' coronavirus measures? 

Switzerland climbs to top of global e-commerce index

Switzerland is best equipped for electronic commerce between companies and individual customers, according to the annual index published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 

Last year, 97 percent of the Swiss population used the Internet and 98 percent had a bank account, numbers that placed Switzerland first among more than 150 countries surveyed by the UN organisation.

More broadly, Europe remains by far the region best prepared for electronic commerce.

Strengthened border checks 

The Federal Council is launching a consultation on the Entry/Exit System (EES), aimed at detecting the entries and exits of third-country nationals in the Schengen area. 

Cantonal police, along with security and prosecution authorities, will be able request EES data to prevent, prosecute or identify serious crimes.

This will make border control more efficient and better manage the growing number of travellers heading to the Schengen area, the Federal Council said.

The consultation will end on May 29th and the amendments to the law will likely come into force with the activation of the EES, scheduled for May 2022.

Health expert: The government’s coronavirus strategy is too pessimistic

Epidemiologist Marcel Tanner, former member of the Covid-19 Task Force, said that federal authorities should be more positive in how they convey the evolution of the disease to the public.

“The variants are not more pathogenic than the original virus and the vaccine is also effective against mutants. We must communicate this good news and avoid to always present the worst scenarios ”, he said. 

Tanner added that “the number of infections will never drop and we will not return to normal life if the negative rhetoric of fear remains the same”.


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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.