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EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s three-phase plan for ending Covid-19 restrictions?

The Swiss government has outlined its strategy on Wednesday for gradual easing of the remaining coronavirus measures. Here are the main points.

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s three-phase plan for ending Covid-19 restrictions?
Vaccines are the only way forward, Swiss government said. Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / POOL / AFP

Just days after Swiss authorities relaxed lockdown measures across the country, the Swiss government has laid out a plan for how the country can gradually return to normal. 

There will be three phases, which will start in spring and move into the summer: protection, stabilisation and normalisation. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Protection phase: vaccination of high-risk people

“Given the need to protect vulnerable people who have not yet been vaccinated and the fragile epidemiological situation, further easing is not possible before May 26th”, the Federal Council said.

This is the phase we are in now and its focus is on vaccinating 75 percent of the people in the high-risk category. It will continue “until all vulnerable people who want it have been fully immunised — that is, with two doses”.

The Federal Council expects this phase to be completed by the end of May.

Until then, protective measures currently in place “must be maintained in order to avoid an uncontrolled increase in the number of cases and, consequently, an increase in hospitalisations and deaths”, authorities said.

If the epidemiological situation is favourable, the Federal Council will consider further relaxation of measures — such as re-opening of indoor restaurant spaces —  from May 26th at the earliest.

Stabilisation phase: Vaccinations for general public

During this phase, the entire adult population will have access to the vaccines, and everyone who wants to be vaccinated will have received at least the first dose by the end of June.

When vaccination coverage has reached around 40 to 50 percent of the general population group, “further relaxations can be considered”,  including increasing the number of people allowed to gather together in public and at large outdoor events.

Also at this time, “it is planned to set up selective access” for people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid.

At this point, the vaccination certificate will become available in Switzerland.

READ MORE: ‘Green pass’: Everything you need to know about the coronavirus immunity card in Switzerland

Authorities estimate that this phase will be completed by the end of July.

Normalisation phase: lifting of measures

This phase will begin when all those who want to get vaccinated are fully immunised.

At this time, “social and economic restrictions will no longer be justified. The remaining measures will be gradually lifted”, including the mask requirement.

This phase is expected to happen by the end of August.

The Federal Council emphasised, however, that this phase-out can be implemented only if the epidemiological situation allows it. In order for that to happen, “it is essential that as many people as possible get vaccinated”.

“If, despite everything, the pandemic were to strengthen and threaten to overload the health system, the Federal Council reserves the right to maintain or reintroduce certain measures for a certain time, such as the obligation to wear a mask, the respect of distances and the limitation of capacities”, the government added.

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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.”