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VACCINATION

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s current coronavirus measures?

From Monday, April 19th, Switzerland will relax a number of coronavirus rules. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland's current coronavirus measures?
Switzerland will again be allowed to open up terraces at bars and restaurants from April 19th. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland’s government announced Wednesday it would significantly ease its Covid-19 restrictions despite the fact that the country’s epidemic “remains fragile and has even worsened in recent weeks”.

The government said that as of Monday, Swiss restaurants and bars, which have been closed since December, will be permitted to open outdoor seating areas, while cinemas and other leisure facilities will reopen, as will outdoor and indoor sports facilities.

The government warned that it was too early to say whether increased socialising during the Easter holidays last week would cause a fresh spike in infections.

‘Walking a tightrope’: Swiss react to government lifting shutdown measures

But, the government stressed in a statement, it “estimates that the risks associated with this easing are acceptable”.

Here’s what you need to know

Restaurants and bars may reopen terraces

Outdoor areas of bars and restaurants may again open up all over the country. 

A maximum of four people may sit at a table – all all people must be seated. 

Take away shops are allowed to set up tables outside – provided people are seated. 

Restaurants and take aways must be closed between 11pm and 6am. 

The government will continue to fund businesses, even with the openings. 

“Because many catering businesses are not yet able to cover their costs with this regulation, the economic support for the catering industry will continue as before,” the government said in a statement. 

Discos, nightclubs and dancehalls must stay closed.

Sporting events and concerts

Audiences are again allowed at sporting events and concerts. 

The numbers will be capped at 100 for outdoor events and 50 for indoor events. 

These numbers cannot exceed one third of the capacity of the venue. For instance, if an indoor event space only has capacity for 100 people, then the maximum number of people will be 33. 

Distance should be kept between attendees, including having at least one chair/seat in between each audience members. 

Food and drink will not be served. 

Groups

The government did not announce any changes to this rule. A maximum of 15 people may meet outdoors and indoors. 

Children are counted in the tally. While not a rule, the government still recommends that no more than two households meet at one time (up to the maximum number).

Leisure and entertainment may reopen inside

Leisure and entertainment facilities such as zoos and botanic gardens may reopen their indoor areas. Outdoor areas have been allowed to open since March 1st. 

Masks must be worn inside. 

Wellness facilities and pools must however remain closed. 

Entry into Switzerland

The rules regarding entry into Switzerland were not changed as part of the update. 

More information on entry and quarantine rules is available at the following link. 

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

Sport and culture

Individuals and groups of up to 15 people are again allowed to play amateur sport, including tournaments and competitions. 

However, masks must be worn outside where distance of 1.5 metres cannot be kept – and both masks and distance must be worn/kept indoors. 

Reader question: Will gyms and fitness centres open again in Switzerland?

Ski areas will remain a decision for the cantons – and of course the coming warmer weather. 

The federal government requires that cantons make their decisions to open or close ski facilities on the basis of test capacity, hospital capacity, contact tracing infrastructure and only where a ‘hygiene and safety concept’ has been provided. 

Gyms and fitness centres

Gyms and fitness centres are again allowed to open from April 19th. There is no maximum capacity as gyms are not counted as a ‘group activity’, meaning that distance must be kept and masks must be worn. 

There are exceptions to the mask rules for ‘endurance training’, however longer distances must be kept in these instances. 

Shops 

Non-essential shops and markets have been allowed to open since March 1st. Mask requirements and capacity restrictions must however be followed. 

Supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, hairdressers, gas stations, laundries, hardware stores and garden stores were not closed as part of the lockdown and therefore remain open. 

Universities

Face-to-face teaching will again be allowed at universities and in adult education from Monday. 

There is a restriction to a maximum of 50 people and a capacity limitation to a third of the room, as well as mask and distance requirements.

Working from home

The obligation to work from home remains in place. This was not changed as part of the announcement. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules of Switzerland’s obligation to work from home?

More information on the specific measures is available at the following official link. 

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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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