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COVID-19

Switzerland set to decide if restaurants can reopen in March

Swiss authorities initially ruled that restaurants would remain closed until at least April 1st. But many cantons are pressuring the Federal Council to allow the gastronomy sector to re-open in March. The decision will be announced Wednesday afternoon.

Switzerland set to decide if restaurants can reopen in March
AFP

Please note: Switzerland announced Wednesday that shops, museums and zoos can reopen from March 1, while restaurants can open from March 22nd. Click here for more information. 

While relaxing some coronavirus measures from March 1st, the Federal Council said restaurants will remain shut until April 1st, at which date only outside seating will be permitted and only if the epidemiological situation in Switzerland allows it.

In order for that to happen, a number of criteria has to be met: the infection positivity rate should fall below 5 percent, occupancy of the intensive care units by coronavirus patients should be below 25 percent, and the R-rate  — which indicates Covid’s ability to spread —must be below 1.

As all of these conditions are currently met, a number of cantons are urging the federal authorities to authorise the re-opening of restaurants already in March.

READ MORE: How restaurants could reopen by March 1st in Switzerland 

Here’s an overview of how and when various cantons want to open restaurants, as reported by SRF public broadcaster

Valais, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Schwyz, Nidwalden, Glarus, and the two Appenzells, are calling for re-opening as of March 1st.

Uri and Graubünden are also demanding the permission to re-open their outdoor areas from March 1st. Should this not be possible, the Graubünden government wants at least the possibility of seating in the vicinity of takeaways.

Lucerne and Schaffhausen did not specify the date, but both want the outdoor areas of their  restaurants to re-open in March.

Vaud would like to open at noon from March 15th for lunch service and close at 6 pm, at which time only take-away service would be allowed.

Geneva also wants to resume in mid-March.

Ticino and Fribourg are calling for the March 22nd re-opening. “The virus is still there, but the situation is under control”, said Ticino’s cantonal councillor Norman Gobbi.

However, while most cantons want to resume in March, others are backing the Federal Council’s decision to wait until April.

That is the case of Aargau, Solothurn, and Zurich.

Some cantons are not included in the list, as they have not expressed their position on the issue.

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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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