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Reader question: Do I still need to wear a mask at work in Switzerland?

Switzerland has relaxed mask rules and dropped the requirement to work from home. What does this mean in offices and other workplaces?

Reader question: Do I still need to wear a mask at work in Switzerland?
Masks will no longer be required in the office in Switzerland - although it is ultimately up to the employer. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

On Wednesday June 23rd, the Swiss government announced that a widespread array of Covid restrictions would be relaxed from June 26th. 

‘Quite brave’: Switzerland goes further than expected in new easing of Covid rules

This includes rules for shops, leisure activities, restaurants and nightclubs.

Working from home will no longer be mandatory, although the government still recommends it wherever possible. 

Mask rules will also be significantly relaxed in outdoor areas and in some indoor areas. 

From June 26th, masks will no longer be required outdoors in bus stops, train stations, leisure facilities, on ship decks and on chair lifts. 

In addition, masks will also no longer be required in the workplace, with employers free to decide whether masks should be worn or not based on employers’ duty to ensure their staff are sufficiently protected against the virus.

According to the official government regulation: “Employers still have a duty to ensure that staff are protected, but are free to decide where and when masks should be worn.”

However, mask rules will remain in place where staff or state officials interact with customers or members of the public indoors, i.e. in supermarkets, retail outlets, banks and restaurants. 

Staff do not need to wear masks outdoors

The requirement of a mask indoors will change however if a venue or event organiser ensures everyone in attendance has a valid Covid health certificate.

If so, masks do not need to be worn – even by staff (provided of course they also have Covid certificates). 

READ MORE: What will Switzerland’s Covid-19 pass allow you to do?

At a federal level masks will also no longer be required in grammar schools, technical secondary schools and vocational schools.

However, the Federal Council indicated that some cantons may continue the existing mask rules in educational institutions.

The changes are a result of improvements in the epidemiological situation, with Covid infection rates falling dramatically across Switzerland in recent weeks.

For more information on the specific rules for masks and where they must be worn, please click here for official government rules

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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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