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COVID-19 RULES

What are Switzerland’s plans to relax Covid measures – and will they happen?

Switzerland has announced a relaxation of several Covid measures while also announcing two paths towards dropping all restrictions by the end of February.

Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset gestures during a press conference. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset gestures during a press conference. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Almost two years since the start of the pandemic, there is some good news thanks the combined impact of vaccination and the lower virulence of the Omicron variant. 

Despite higher than ever infection rates, the country’s hospitals and ICUs are stable and as a result the government looks set to further reduce Covid measures. 

EXPLAINED: Why does Switzerland want to end Covid restrictions?

The Swiss government on Wednesday afternoon announced the relaxation of Covid measures, along with a plan to end most remaining measures by the start of March. 

In making the announcement, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said “Today heralds the beginning of a new phase in the pandemic.”

“Today is a beautiful day. We see light on the horizon.”

What measures are set to fall? 

The obligation to work from home and the five-day contact quarantine requirement will come to an end at midnight on Wednesday. 

More information about these measures and how they will be relaxed is available at the following link. 

UPDATE: Swiss to end quarantine and working from home obligation from Wednesday

Two paths forward out of the pandemic

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset presented two possible options to the cantons on Wednesday, which were then sent out for consultation until February 9th.

Path one

The first path would see the lifting of almost all Covid measures from February 17th, provided the country has passed the peak of the wave of new infections and vaccinations/boosters continue to progress. 

If this happens, all protective measures would be lifted. Covid certificates would no longer be required for bars and restaurants, for events and for visiting cultural venues. 

Travel: Switzerland proposes end to Covid entry rules

Masks would no longer be required in bars, restaurants, public transport, shops and in other publicly accessible areas. 

There would be no further restrictions on private meetings, while events would no longer need to be authorised. 

Some measures would remain in place, including the requirement to isolate if you test positive, along with safety and hygiene plans for all large events. 

Path two

The second path is more cautious than the first, although it would still see the relaxation of several measures on February 17th. 

Covid certificates would no longer be required for restaurants, although seating would still be compulsory. The 2G rule – i.e. requiring people to be vaccinated or recovered – would apply wherever the 2G+ rule applies (i.e. nightclubs, choirs, swimming pools and saunas and indoor sporting activities). 

There would be no further restrictions on private meetings, while large outdoor events would no longer need to be authorised via a permit. 

Mask rules would remain in place, along with the isolation rule for people who test positive and the 2G rule for certain venues. These would be lifted in future as soon as the situation allows it. 

Proposed changes to travel rules

The Swiss government has also proposed further changes to travel rules, which will also be decided on by the cantons as part of the consultation process. 

This includes removing all Covid-related entry rules in place in the country. 

The requirement for people who are unvaccinated or not recovered from the virus to be tested on arrival would be dropped. 

The requirement to provide contact details in Switzerland’s entry form would also be dropped. 

Tourists would no longer need to get and show Covid certificates, as these would not be in use in Switzerland. If they remain in use, i.e. for larger events as laid out in path two above, then tourists would still be required to show certificates at these events. 

The Swiss government did however say that the overall Covid certificate would not be scrapped even if it was no longer required domestically as this may need to be shown abroad, i.e. for travel or entry to certain venues. 

Click here for the official government press release. 

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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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