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CHRISTMAS

What you can and can’t do under Switzerland’s Christmas Covid rules

For the second year in a row, Switzerland has certain measures in place for the holiday season. They are not as strict as those imposed in 2020, but here’s a reminder of what you can — and can’t — do.

This is permitted under the new rules. Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels
This is permitted under the new rules. Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels

Due to the still problematic epidemiological situation in Switzerland in terms of high infection and hospitalisation rates, and the Omicron variant spreading rapidly through the country, the Federal Council has tightened some measures from December 20th to January 24th, 2022 at the earliest.

One that will probably wreak havoc with many families’ Christmas and / or New Year plans is the rule for private indoor gatherings.

“Experience has shown that the risk of infection in private settings is considerable”, the Federal Council said when announcing the new measures on December 17th.

For this reason, authorities have decided to impose restrictions on people over the age of 16 at private indoor gatherings who have not been fully immunised against Covid or recovered from it within the past six months.

READ MORE: 2G: Switzerland targets unvaccinated with new Covid measures

In such cases, “no more than 10 people are allowed to meet, and children are included in that number. The upper limit for indoor gatherings is 30 if everyone from the age of 16 is vaccinated or has recovered from Covid-19. The limit for outdoor gatherings is still 50”, the Federal Council said.

This means that if you want to celebrate Christmas outdoors in the mountains or in the forest, you are basically unencumbered by any rules. But if prefer the more traditional, and warmer, way, seated around the table with family and friends, then the new measures apply.

It is true that enforcing these rules in a private sphere is difficult if not impossible, unless a neighbour reports you, but authorities are relying — as they have throughout the pandemic — on the civic conscience and personal responsibility of each person.

What are the ruled outside of homes?

In any public indoor sphere, the new 2G or 2G-Plus rules apply.

This means you have to show your Covid certificate for enter restaurants and other indoor venues. You will be allowed to come in only if you are vaccinated or recovered from Covid within the last six months, not if you are merely tested.

If, however, you are going to celebrate in venues that don’t provide seats while customers are eating or drinking, and masks can’t be worn, then the 2G-Plus measures will kick in: if you  have not been inoculated against Covid or recovered from it within the last four months, you need a PCR or antigen test to enter.

The same applies if you have been fully vaccinated or recovered more than four months ago and have not had a booster shot since then.

Here is more information about the 2G-Plus rule:

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland’s 2G-Plus rule?

If you are discouraged by these measures as they will dampen your celebrations, don’t be. They are much laxer than last year’s rules. Here’s a reminder, in case you forgot:

  • Up to five people from two households could gather for private events, with exceptions for celebrations for up to 10 people from December 24th to 26th, and on December 31st for Christmas and New Year festivities.
  • Sports and cultural activities were limited to five people
  • Public demonstrations were banned, except for religious celebrations.
  • Restaurants and bars had had to close at 7 pm, except for December 24th and 31st, when they remained open until 1 am. 

With that, here’s hoping that this year’s Christmas will bring you comfort and joy, despite the circumstances.

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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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