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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
Italian border town to vaccinate frontier workers. Photo by AFP

More regions of Switzerland’s neighbours added to the quarantine list

Starting on March 8th, Switzerland will place additional regions of Austria and Italy on its high-risk list.

From that date, travellers from Austrian regions of Land Kärnten and Land Niederösterreich, as well as from Regione Abruzzo, Regione Campania, Regione Liguria, Regione Molise and Regione Toscana in Italy, will have to self-quarantine for 10 days after arriving on Switzerland.

Luxembourg will also be added to the list from March 8th.

The complete list of all the high-risk countries is here

Vaccinated people may be exempted from quarantine

Those who have had their Covid shots should be able to forego the quarantine requirement, according to the Committee on Political Institutions of the Council of States.

The parliamentary body asked the Federal Council to lift the quarantine for this group of people, as “quarantines seriously undermine the fundamental rights of individuals”. This exemption should also apply to others proven not to be contagious, such as people who have recovered from coronavirus, committee members say.

Vaccinated people may be excepted from quarantine. Photo by AFP

READ MORE: UPDATED: What are Switzerland’s new travel and quarantine rules? 

Geneva could have outdoor restaurant seating all year round

Geneva officials authorised the expansion of outdoor terraces to enable restaurant owners to open their establishments regardless of season.

This way, customers will not have to sit inside and be exposed to the risk of infection.

Concretely, it will be possible to expand sidewalk terraces by 50 percent of the surface already allowed by municipal regulations, as long as the access to nearby buildings and pedestrian crossings is unencumbered.

Italian town gives border workers vaccine priority

The commune of Viggiù, which lies on the Swiss border, has been classified as a high-risk ‘red’ zone since February 16th.

Local health authorities announced that the entire adult population will be vaccinated against coronavirus, but the priority will be given to those employed in Switzerland.

“A specific vaccination strategy has been defined that takes into consideration the proximity to Switzerland and the high presence of cross-border commuters who can more easily come into contact with variants of the virus “, officials 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.