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Covid-19: What’s the outlook for Easter weekend in Switzerland?

Easter is just over three weeks away, but what will you be able to do in Switzerland over the long holiday weekend?

Covid-19: What's the outlook for Easter weekend in Switzerland?
Eggs will be part of Easter tradition, despite Covid restrictions. Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP

This year Easter weekend is from Good Friday April 2nd until (and including) Monday April 5th.

It is difficult to predict what restrictions will still be in place over Easter, but this holiday will probably not be as ‘normal’ and carefree as in pre-pandemic years.

This what we know so far. 

Restaurants

The Federal Council said restaurants will be able to open their outdoor terraces either on March 22nd or April 1st, but only if the epidemiological situation allows it. 

However, 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. 

Right now one of these conditions is not met: the R-rate has been hovering at 1.09 in most of Switzerland.

Also, it is not certain whether the current limit of five people for indoor gatherings will be lifted by Easter, so large family gatherings may not be on the table.

The Federal Council will consult with the cantons on Friday and announce what, of any, measures will be lifted on March 19th.

Given all these unknowns, it is difficult to plan ahead. Let’s have a look at what may and may not be possible on Easter.

Travel

It depends where you want to go.

A trip abroad may be problematic. Italy, for instance, is considering new restrictions  amid warnings that the spread of new variants is fuelling a third wave of infections. 

READ MORE: Which of Switzerland’s neighbouring countries can you enter – and what are the rules?

And Switzerland requires arrivals from certain regions of Austria, France and Italy to quarantine for 10 days, which means weekend trips to those areas are out of the question for most people. 

Likewise, 18 European countries are on the quarantine list, which makes foreign travel impractical at the moment. 

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

However, a trip within Switzerland is possible, as long you comply with all the measures that are currently in place, such as masks, social distance, and hand hygiene.

And if you stay in a hotel in Switzerland, you will be able to eat in the on-site restaurant.  Hotels are allowed to serve meals to their overnight guests, but not to the public at large.

Outdoor events

Weather permitting, outdoor activities, including traditional ones like egg hunts, are your best bet.

Zoos, botanical gardens, as well as sports and cultural activities involving up to 15 people are permitted.

Skiing

Slopes in some high-altitude Swiss resorts are usually open until after Easter, so skiing may be a possibility.

Ski areas are implementing various rules and restrictions to rein in the spread of coronavirus and its various mutations.

However, if you plan on staying overnight in rented accommodation in a ski resort — or anywhere else in Switzerland for that matter — only five people will be permitted to stay together.

 

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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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