Will Switzerland shorten Covid quarantine to five days?

Despite rising case numbers, Swiss scientists and business experts have called for a shortening in the country’s Covid quarantine to ward off damaging economic impacts.

A person stands on wooden floorboards with bare feet
Will Switzerland shorten its quarantine requirement? Photo by Barthelemy de Mazenod on Unsplash

As at December 29th, approximately 90,000 people are in a ten-day quarantine in Switzerland for Covid. 

Currently, the ten-day quarantine can be ended on the seventh day with a negative PCR or antigen test.

Only those who are not fully vaccinated need to quarantine, although some cantons have further tightened this requirement so that only those who have received a booster shot can avoid the isolation requirement. 

While the travel quarantine was abolished at the start of December, a quarantine requirement remains in place for those who test positive for the virus or who come into contact with someone who has. 

Even people who do not have symptoms are required to stay inside for ten days, which could potentially mean hundreds of thousands have to isolate if infection numbers continue to rise. 

The Swiss government has forecast a collapse in the country’s social infrastructure should this take place. 

Experts have also warned of the negative social consequences of isolation on members of the public. 

Only a small risk of further infections

Swiss epidemiologist Marcel Tanner told news outlet 20 Minutes that there is only a minimal risk of passing on the virus after five days. 

“In view of the current package of measures with vaccination and booster, it has been seen that a long quarantine period does not help much epidemiologically and therefore in the risk-benefit assessment.”

Jan-Ebert Sturm, the Vice President of the government’s scientific task force, said a better balance needs to be struck between not overwhelming the country’s hospitals while also ensuring parts of the economy do not again shut down. 

“By trying to slow down the scale of the wave on the one hand so as not to overwhelm our health system, and on the other hand we need staff in socially important areas to maintain social life (we can strike that balance),” Sturm told 20 Minutes. 

Roland A. Müller, Director of the Employers’ Association, said his organisation was in constant talks with the government to shorten the requirement and expects a change to take place. 

“We expect that the quarantine will either be shortened or that exception rules will be issued for certain professions and industries outside of the healthcare sector.”

More information on Switzerland’s Covid quarantine is available here. 

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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.