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COVID-19

‘Critical situation’: Switzerland’s new coronavirus hotspots

As the number of infections and hospitalisations continues to rise, the epidemiological situation in Switzerland is deteriorating. This is how things stand right now.

The epidemiological situation in Switzerland is worsening
Swiss ICUs are filling up with Covid patients. Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

The number of new daily infections has been exceeding the 8,000 mark over the past week, showing no sign of slowing down . And as the weather is getting colder, more people gather indoors, where the virus spreads quicker, especially among the unvaccinated.

Health experts are qualifying Switzerland’s epidemiological situation as “critical”, warning that the presence of Omicron variant could pose new risks.

While the pockets of infection are still mostly concentrated in the eastern and central part of the country, the overall situation is getting worse. At the beginning of last week, for instance, Switzerland’s rate of infection per 100,000 people was 602,34; currently, it is 989, 09 / 100,000.

All the cantons marked in dark blue on this map from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) exceed the national average: Thurgau, St. Gallen, the two Appenzells, Graubünden, Schwyz, Nidwalden, Obwalden, and Uri.

Hospitalisations

Though the number of Covid-related hospital admissions has been relatively low for weeks, the number of intensive care beds occupied by coronavirus patients has been rising.

Last week, 154 Covid patients were hospitalised in Swiss ICUs; as of November 28, that number is 217, according to FOPH.

Also, while in mid-November the vast majority of these patients were in Appenzell Innerrhoden and Schwyz, right now ICUs in Basel-City, Glarus, Uri, and Bern are also impacted.

And the situation is likely to become even more dire: the Swiss government warned on November 23rd the country was “three weeks behind Austria” in terms of hospitalisations, and will reach Austria-style capacities in mid-December, with surgeries cancelled and hospitals needing to make triage decisions about who to treat in intensive care. 

READ MORE: Switzerland ‘three weeks behind Austria’ as hospitals warn of triage

Deaths

While so far the Covid death rate is lower than it was during the second wave in November 2020,  it is climbing up.

In the previous 14 days, 144 deaths have been reported, with most (26) in Bern, followed by Zurich (24), Valais (15) , and Aargau 10.

Most of those who dies from coronavirus-related complications were unvaccinated, FOPH data indicates.

Is the Omicron variant impacting the epidemiological situation in Switzerland?

As this mutation, which emerged in South Africa, is relatively new in Europe, not much is known for the moment about how contagious it is and whether it can exacerbate the evolution of the pandemic.

On Monday, FOPH’s director Anne Levy said health officials fear “the worrying variant” especially coupled with the Delta strain, which is dominant in Switzerland. It is not known either at this point , when the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect against Omicron.

However, the variant is already impacting pre-Christmas travel, as Switzerland has placed the UK, Portugal, Canada, and a number of other nations on its list of high-risk countries.

This means people arriving from these countries, including Swiss citizens and permanent residents returning to Switzerland, need to present a negative test on arrival and must quarantine for 10 days.

They will also have to  test between day 4 and day 7, along with informing cantonal authorities.

READ MORE: Switzerland adds Portugal, Canada to mandatory Covid quarantine list

Given the deteriorating situation, are new national restrictions likely for Christmas?

Though earlier in November Swiss authorities renounced to implement new measures on the federal level, telling cantons to do so on their territories, the Federal Council is holding a “crisis” meeting today to discuss whether to implement stricter Covid rules.

According to media reports, the new measures could include limiting the number of participants at private events from 30 to 10, a shorter validity period for coronavirus tests, and / or the expansion of the mask requirement.

READ MORE: What new Covid-19 rules are likely in Switzerland?

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TRAVEL NEWS

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.”

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