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

Some in Switzerland praised the government’s decision on Wednesday to ease some of the Covid-19 restrictions, while others warned about possible dire consequences.

‘Walking a tightrope’: Swiss react to government lifting shutdown measures
Restaurants will be able to open up their outdoor terraces on Monday. Photo by STEPHANIE KEITH / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The government said that as of Monday April 19th, Swiss restaurants and bars, which have been closed since December, will be permitted to open outdoor seating areas, along with cinemas and other leisure and sports facilities.

The announcement sparked diverse reactions among Switzerland’s political and business groups.

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s coronavirus measures?

The most concerned by the decision, the umbrella organisation of the restaurant and hotel industry Gastrosuisse, said in a statement that the re-opening of outdoor spaces “is the first step in the right direction”.

However, restaurants that don’t have a terrace will not be able to open, “which implies inequalities of treatment,” the association pointed out.

The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Health Directors, on the other hand, “is satisfied with the gradual and cautious re-opening strategy, which is line with the wishes of the cantons”.

The Liberal Party also praised the decision to re-open, saying that the “the government has shown common sense”.

“By continuing to respect the sanitary measures, we can hope for further relaxations in the coming weeks”, the party added.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which has been pressuring the Federal Council for weeks to re-open the economy, said the government is moving too slowly.

“The decisions are certainly pointing in the right direction, but these are only very small openings”, SVP said, adding that keeping indoor restaurants closed “is totally arbitrary and incomprehensible”.

READ MORE: Switzerland to ease Covid restrictions from Monday

The Swiss Union of Arts and Crafts (USAM), an association of small and medium-sized companies, also noted that the measures don’t go far enough and criticised the Federal Council for its “hesitant management” of the Covid-19 pandemic and “purely symbolic” relaxations.

However, on the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Green party considers the easing as “irresponsible” while the pandemic is still ongoing.

The Socialist Party has also spoken out against the re-opening, warning that the Federal Council is “walking a tightrope”.

Perhaps the most dire warning comes from the Medical Society of French-speaking Switzerland, whose president Philippe Eggimann said that by partially re-opening the gastronomy and other sectors of the economy, “we are playing with fire”.

“The game is not yet won and we are taking a real risk”.

What could happen as a consequence of the easing is that Switzerland could be hit by a new wave of infections in the summer, “while our European neighbours, still confined for the most part, will emerge from it just then”.

For Eggimann, it would have been more judicious if the government “waited until 50 percent of those over the age of 50 are vaccinated before taking these new measures”.

Health Minister Alain Berset conceded that the easing of measures while the country’s health situation remains fragile and has even worsened in recent weeks is “a calculated risk, but certainly not a blank check”.

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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.”