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

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 Friday
Tax rules for cross-border employees working from home have been extended. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Federal and cantonal authorities to discuss lifting of measures

The Federal Council and the cantons are scheduled to discuss this afternoon whether some of the remaining restrictions should be eased as of March 22nd or April 1st, as originally planned.

This particularly concerns the possibility of re-opening restaurants, a move that the industry association and some political groups have been calling for.

The final decision will be made on March 19th, but health experts say that given the rising number of infections, early re-openings may not be on the horizon. 

READ MORE: Rising infection rates put Switzerland’s March reopening plans in jeopardy

Tax agreement extended for French cross-border workers in Switzerland

The agreement concluded between Bern and Paris on May 13th, 2020, which suspended the obstacles to teleworking for cross-border commuters, would expire on March 31st.

But as the pandemic is still ongoing in both countries, the two governments consented to extend it until June 30th, the Federal Tax Administration announced.

This means that cross-border commuters who have to work from home will continue to benefit from the same tax regime as before the health crisis.

READ MORE: Tax rules cross-border workers in Switzerland need to know

Covid vaccines caused serious side effects in 177 people

Among 597 adverse reactions reported in Switzerland until March 8th, almost a third were considered as serious, according to regulatory agency, Swissmedic.

If those, 343 cases are attributed to the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine,  251 to Moderna, and in three cases the vaccine could not be determined.

While most reactions were mild, the 177 ‘severe’ cases included fever (24), respiratory distress (18), Covid-like symptoms (14), nausea (11), hypersensitivity (11) anaphylactic reactions ( 11), headaches and migraines (11) and shingles (8).

In 21 of these severe cases, the inoculated person died. Those affected were on average 85 years old and most suffered from serious pre-existing conditions. However, Swissmedic said there is no concrete evidence that these deaths were caused by the vaccine.

To date, nearly 955,000 people were vaccinated in Switzerland, of whom 332,585 received both doses. In this context, the percentage of people who suffered serious reactions is very small.

Swiss Covid drug failed clinical studies

A  phase 3 trial with tocilizamab, a medication manufactured by Swiss pharma giant Roche did not meet its goals. This means one less drug will be available to treat coronavirus patients.

All hopes are pinned on a medicine being developed by the Zurich laboratory Molecular Partners.

Initial findings on its drug, Ensovibep, indicate it is “safe and well tolerated with no significant adverse events”, the manufacturers reported. 

The antiviral treatment is still in its clinical trial phase, with further tests scheduled  in the spring.

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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.