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Decision day: Is the Swiss government ready to lift restrictions?

The Federal Council will announce on Wednesday afternoon whether some of the measures implemented in Switzerland in January will be eased or remain in place.

Decision day: Is the Swiss government ready to lift restrictions?
Will restairsnt terraces re-open in Switzerland? Stay tuned. Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP

Switzerland on Wednesday afternoon announced it had lifted a range of coronavirus measures. Here’s what you need to know. 

The current restrictions, taken to curtail the spread of coronavirus and its new mutations, have been in effect since January 18th.

They include the closing of all restaurants, bars and coffee shops — perhaps the most contentious rule that the government had enforced.

Political and business groups have been calling on the authorities to step up the process of re-opening, arguing that the prolonged shutdown is not only bad for the economy, but also takes its toll on people’s mental health.

Will the government give in to the pressure or will it stand its ground?

Even the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is unaware of the government’s decision.

“The Federal Council has not whispered anything into our ears,” said Virginie Masserey, the head of FOPH’s infection control section, when asked about the imminent announcement  by a journalist.

Authorities have previously said that to end the shutdown, a number of criteria has to be met: the infection positivity rate over 14 days should fall below 5 percent, occupancy of the intensive care units (ICU) 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, only one of these benchmarks is being met: the occupation of intensive care beds is just under 23 percent.  

However, Swiss media is reporting that even though the epidemiological situation in the country is far from ideal, the Federal Council is ready to make a small, conciliatory gesture by allowing the re-opening of restaurant terraces and the limited return of spectators to cultural and sport events.

It is not known when this would happen, but probably not before April 26th, the media reported, basing this information on “well-informed sources”.

Postponing the re-opening until the end of the month would give health authorities more time to vaccinate more people, sources said.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How Switzerland is speeding up its vaccination programme

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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