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

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 Monday
More avalanches occurred in the Swiss Alps this winter. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Foreign candidate elected in canton Vaud

One of the candidates from the Social Democratic party, Awa Diédhiou, who came to Switzerland in 2005 from Senegal, was elected on Sunday to the communal council in Renens, Vaud.

“In a city like Renens, where fifty percent of population is foreign, it is important to make our voice heard and to participate in decision-making”, she said.

The cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Jura allow non-citizens to vote, elect officials, and stand for election at communal level. 

The Green party is spearheading the campaign to allow foreign nationals to vote on federal level as well.

READ MORE: Will foreigners in Switzerland finally earn the right to vote in federal elections?

Fewer cases of flu thanks to Covid preventive measures

The 2020 / 2021 flu season has been far less severe than last year’s, according to Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

The number of reported cases dropped from about 350 per 100,000 inhabitants at the peak of flu season last year to just over 100 / 100,000 in 2021.

Health authorities attribute this decline in numbers to protective and hygiene measures put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“The hand washing, the distance rules and the wearing of masks have helped against the flu virus,” said infectiologist Philippe Eggimann, adding that “the corona measures prevented many flu deaths”.

Ski resort sculpts benches in the snow to create seats for eating

As the government ordered all restaurant terraces on ski slopes to close, the resort of Arosa in canton Graubünden carved snow benches directly on the pistes.  

Located in front of the “Brüggerstuba” restaurant, the snow benches serve as an outdoor space for eating.  “In Arosa, we are always looking for solutions, even when the decisions of the authorities are incomprehensible”, said. Pascal Jenny, head of Arosa’s Tourism Office. 

Several cantons had tried to keep their outdoor dining facilities open for skiers, but the Federal Council ordered them shut as of March 1st.  

Photo by Pascal Jenny  / Facebook

Deadly winter for avalanches

In the winter of 2020/21 there were an above-average number of avalanche accidents in Swiss mountains.

The Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) has already counted 151 avalanche accidents by the end of February —the highest number on record and twice as many as the average over the past 20 years. 

Over 200 people were caught in avalanches and 20 died.

The high number of avalanches was caused  by the “unfavorable snow cover build-up between December and February”, said Frank Techel from the SLF. The fresh snow fell on a partially weak snow cover, creating a situation when a person’s weight is enough to collapse the foundation.

Experts say that the pandemic is also to blame. “With many concerned about the potential for contracting the virus – and with ski resorts experiencing record popularity – the idea of going off piste has become more attractive”, they note.

If you have any questions about life in Switzerland, ideas for articles or news tips for The Local please get in touch with us at [email protected]

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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.