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Is Switzerland really a ‘coronavirus paradise’ compared to Germany?

German tabloid Bild on Sunday compared the coronavirus situation in Germany and Switzerland, reporting that the freedoms in the latter made Switzerland a “coronavirus paradise”. But is it really?

Is Switzerland really a 'coronavirus paradise' compared to Germany?
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

According to a report published on Sunday by German tabloid Bild, the Swiss canton of Zug is a “city of happiness” full of “happy people who have the courage to live”. 

The tabloid, which paid a visit to the central canton of Zug on April 11th, was critical of Germany’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and suggested they should take a leaf out of the book of their southern neighbours. 

In particular, Bild wrote that the rules in Switzerland were much clearer and easier to understand as they were put in place across all of the country’s 26 cantons, unlike the supposed ‘patchwork’ of rules in place in Germany. 

“What is allowed in Switzerland and what is not fits on a beer mat” the tabloid wrote. 

‘It feels like a coronavirus paradise’: The Bild article from April 11th.

Is Switzerland really a coronavirus paradise? 

The report is part of a long-running series by the German tabloid – one of the most persistent critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel – which contrasts the supposed freedom afforded to people in Switzerland with the stricter rules of Germany. 

On closer examination however, the report does gloss over some of the major differences between the two countries. 

First and foremost, while the differences in coronavirus rules from canton to canton may be less significant than they are across German states, this has not always been the case. 

Indeed, for the majority of the pandemic, neighbouring Swiss cantons put in place vastly different rules – leading to concerns of people travelling across borders to go shopping or visit restaurants. 

The current legal situation in Germany and Switzerland is also remarkably similar, in the there are a set of agreed federal minimums, with states free to put in place stricter measures when certain metrics are met – for instance hospitalisations, infection rates and intensive care unit capacity. 

As at April 2021 however, cantonal variations are comparatively minimal – although several Swiss cantons have considered allowing bars and restaurants with terraces to open even without federal approval. 

Are the rules different in Switzerland and Germany? 

Despite the suggestions made in the report, not all rules in Switzerland are more relaxed. Indeed, some are stricter. 

As in Germany, bars and restaurants have been forced to close in Switzerland (other than for takeaway food and drinks) since late December.

The rules on wearing masks is largely the same in Switzerland and Germany, although most areas require an FFP2 mask in the latter rather than a simple cloth or medicinal mask. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current coronavirus measures?

Masks are required for workers in all indoor areas in Switzerland, unlike in Germany, where they are only required in workplaces with “confined spaces”. Also unlike Germany, in Switzerland masks are also required for all car drivers and passengers (unless they all live in the same household). 

Also unlike in Germany, working from home has been mandatory in Switzerland for several months. In Germany, workers are “strongly encouraged” to work from home where possible, however there is no obligation.

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COVID-19

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?

OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?

The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023″.

As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system”, it added.

According to current estimates, “it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation”.

However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials  expect the new wave to be milder than the ones  that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.

There are several reasons for this optimism:

Higher immunity

Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.

Lighter course

This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.

New vaccines

The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.

Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.

READ MORE: BREAKING: Switzerland approves new Covid-19 boosters

Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?

While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.

This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19 law: How Switzerland reacted to the referendum results

“No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready”, said MP Mattea Meyer.

While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.

More preparations from the cantons

As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.

They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.

What about the Covid certificate and tracing?

Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.

The government will ensure its international compatibility.

The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.

MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.

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