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EXPLAINED: What Covid measures will Switzerland relax from Monday?

Switzerland is set to relax a range of coronavirus measures from Monday, May 31st. Here is what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: What Covid measures will Switzerland relax from Monday?
Switzerland is set to relax a range of coronavirus measures from Monday, May 31st, including quarantine rules, along with those related to restaurants and gatherings. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland will re-open indoor restaurants and people will no longer be required to work from home, the government announced on May 26th, saying it was lifting Covid restrictions faster than previously planned.

Switzerland said its fourth wave of easing coronavirus measures would take place on Monday, with the wealthy Alpine nation moving to a stabilisation phase in managing the pandemic, as it eyes completing the vaccination of high-risk groups by the end of May.

“The Federal Council is going further than proposed,” the government said in a statement. “In so doing, it is responding to the improved epidemiological situation.”

The government said the requirement to work from home was now being downgraded to a recommendation, while public and private gathering limits were being raised.

“As of Monday, restaurants will once again be able to serve guests indoors,” the statement announced.

Up to four people will be allowed at a table, though contact details will have to be recorded. Masks will have to be worn when moving around inside, and the 11:00 pm curfew is being lifted.

Outdoor dining reopened in April.

“Working from home will be a recommendation rather than a requirement for businesses that carry out weekly testing. A return to the office should be gradual,” the government said.

Quarantine exemptions

At public events, up to 100 people will be allowed to gather indoors and up to 300 people outdoors (up from 50 and 100 respectively), up to a maximum of half of the capacity of venues.

At private gatherings, 30 people will be able to meet indoors, and up to 50 outdoors — up from 10 and 15 respectively.

The government also said anyone fully vaccinated with a Swiss or EU-approved jab would be exempt from quarantine on arrival for six months after the second jab (or first if it’s Johnson & Johnson), and no longer needed to be tested or give contact details at the border.

People aged under 16 are also exempt.

The exemptions already applied to people who have recovered from Covid-19. They do not, however, apply to people arriving from countries where virus variants of concern are circulating at a significant level.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift Covid testing and quarantine requirements for some travellers

In Switzerland, population 8.6 million, more than 688,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19, while nearly 10,200 have lost their lives.

2.76 million people have received their first vaccine dose, while nearly 1.5 million have been fully vaccinated with their second dose.

Switzerland is using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Bern wants to have its next round of easing restrictions on July 1.

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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.