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

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 Tuesday
Ticino approved amendment to citizenship law. Photo by AFP

Morocco suspends all flights to Switzerland

The decision, aimed at curbing the number of infections with coronavirus mutations, went into force on February 22nd and will be in effect of 15 days, Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) said in a statement.

Out of the total population of 37.4 million, only 24 cases caused by the English variant have been isolated in the North African country so far.

In Switzerland, with a population of 8.6 million, more than 7,700 cases of virus variants have been identified until February 22nd, according to Federal Department of Public Health.

EDA added that arriving in Switzerland via France or Italy is possible for Swiss nationals or holders of a residence permit, provided they comply with the restrictions currently in force in these countries. For France, they must complete and sign this certificate. (Tick the box “Transit de moins de 24 heures en zone internationale”).

Swiss laboratory launches tests for coronavirus variants

The Geneva-based diagnostics company Unilabs is launching a Covid-19 test that can also determine the coronavirus mutations.

The test kit is currently only in use at Unilabs throughout Switzerland.

In contrast to other tests, it can evaluate two parameters at the same time: in addition to the coronavirus positivity, the presence of specific variants such as the British, Brazilian and South African strains can also be determined.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How does Switzerland’s mass testing scheme work?



Less coronavirus cases in intensive care units in Swiss hospitals

Unlike the fall of 2020, when hospitals in many regions of Switzerland were at their full capacity, right now their occupancy rate is just over 63 percent, new data from the Federal Office of Public Health shows. 

Of those, most cases (47.9 percent) are not related to Covid, while only 20.4 percent are patients infected with coronavirus.

Free beds constitute 31.7 percent of the country’s total bed capacity.

These numbers show that the overall epidemiological situation in Switzerland has improved, putting significantly less pressure on healthcare facilities.

Swiss hospitals have more free beds now than last fall. Photo by AFP


Ticino authorities green-light new amendment on Swiss citizenship for welfare recipients

The amendment to the existing law will define reimbursement conditions for welfare benefits that foreign nationals living in the canton received in the last 10 years.

This relates to the 2018 law that allows applicants who received social assistance to apply for citizenship if the money is paid back in full. 

Prior to 2018, immigrants who were on public assistance were excluded from the naturalisation process.

In case of Ticino, the law didn’t specify reimbursement criteria, so the amendment was needed to provide clarity, legislators said.


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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.