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

Find out what's going on in Switzerland today with The Local's short round-up of the news.

A red Swiss passport up close
A Swiss biometric passport. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Swiss health minister ready to brave cool weather to eat on restaurant terrace

After announcing the re-opening of outdoor restaurant spaces as of April 19th, the minister, Alain Berset, was asked by journalists whether he doesn’t find it too cold for outside dining.

“I don’t know about you, but I find it very pleasant to sit on a terrace while being warmly dressed”, he replied.

The Local will publish an article today on what the Swiss think about the Federal Council’s decision.

READ MORE: Switzerland to ease Covid restrictions from Monday

Politicians pressure the government to create Covid-19 passport

The internationally recognised vaccination (or immunity) certificate will allow those who have been vaccinated and who have tested negative after recovering from coronavirus, to take part in certain activities, including travel. 

While the Federal Council said the pass will be introduced by summer, politicians are calling on the government to speed up the process.

“The government must create this digital record as soon as possible,” said Andrea Gmür-Schönenberger, president of the parliamentary group of the Center Party.

Petra Gössi from the Liberal party also urged quicker action. “Authorities must finally wake up and present a viable solution before the summer, as it is an important part of getting back to normal”.

READ MORE: Switzerland promises Covid-19 passport ‘by the summer’

Switzerland’s passport is one of the best in the world in 2021

The Swiss passport is in the 7th place, according to a new international ranking of how each passport is treated in global travel.

The study rated 199 countries based on travel freedom and access to visa-free destinations.

The Swiss passport allows visa-free entry to 185 countries, on a par with Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, and the USA.

Japan’s passport received the highest score.

You can see the whole ranking here.

Never too old to learn

Admitted by the University of Fribourg for a master’s degree in theology, a 35-year-old Togolese man did not obtain a residence permit on the grounds that he was too old to be a student.

Fribourg authorities based their refusal on the directive from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), which states that foreign students over the age of 30 are more likely to remain in Switzerland at the end of their training.

The Togolese appealed to the Federal Court, Switzerland’s highest judicial authority,  which ruled in his favour.

The Court said that denial of the permit in this case violates the Swiss Constitution, which prohibits any discrimination linked to age. Authorities will therefore have to use other criteria for granting or denying a permit, such as whether the man meets all the conditions to study in Switzerland.

If you have any questions about life in Switzerland, ideas for articles or news tips for The Local, please get in touch with us at [email protected]

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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.