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COVID-19

Switzerland decides shops, restaurants and museums can open in March

Switzerland announced on Wednesday that shops, museums and zoos can reopen from March 1st, while restaurants can open from March 22nd.

An empty terrace in Switzerland during the coronavirus lockdown
Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Please note: Due to rising infection rates, Switzerland opted against opening restaurants in a meeting on March 19th. Please click here for more information. 

The Swiss government announced that non-essential shops, museums and library reading rooms will reopen, along with outdoor sports and leisure facilities, zoos and botanical gardens.

When making the announcement, the government said the country can gradually take the first steps out of Covid-19 restrictions and into the “gradual normalisation of social and economic life”.

Outdoor events for family and friends and sports and cultural activities involving up to 15 people will also be permitted.

“With this cautious reopening, the Federal Council is aiming to achieve a gradual normalisation of social and economic life, even though the epidemiological situation remains precarious because new, more infectious variants of the virus are circulating,” the government said in a statement.

“The initial reopening phase from March 1st essentially involves activities that allow people to wear masks and maintain social distancing, and that only involve small numbers of people or meeting outdoors.”

Restrictions aimed at reining in the coronavirus pandemic were imposed in December and January following a major spike in case numbers.

The government intends to ease off the measures in stages.

The next stage in reopening is scheduled for March 22nd, when the government hopes to allow the opening of outdoor areas at restaurants, changes to the requirement to work from home, and a limited number of spectators at sporting and cultural events.

“If the epidemiological situation improves in the coming weeks, it will also consider reopening indoor areas in restaurants,” the government said.

More than 550,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Switzerland, population 8.6 million, while more than 9,200 people have died.

More than 675,000 vaccine doses have been administered, giving Switzerland one of the better doses per population rates in Europe.

Member comments

  1. Die Schweizer sind nicht schlau. Man sollte meinen, sie würden das Land und die Wirtschaft vor hohen Covid-Zahlen und neuen Varianten retten wollen. Aber nein. Sie sind wie Kinder, die nach einem Spielzeug schreien, wenn man es ihnen wegnimmt.

    Ihr Verhalten ruiniert den Ruf der Schweiz. Schade. macos/deepLFree.translatedWithDeepL.text

    1. Frankly, I disagree. Outdoor dining is a much lower risk than indoor activities. Sunlight/UV kills viruses and the moving air outside makes outdoor activities low risk. People are meeting often anyway indoors in private homes. Better we have them meet outdoors in the sunshine.

  2. Yes, outdoor is ok. But indoor – that’s a problem. It is one of the worst things one can do, along with gyms.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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