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COVID-19 RULES

UPDATE: What further Covid measures could Switzerland remove on Wednesday?

The Swiss government is scheduled to make its next Covid announcement on Wednesday afternoon. According to leaked information, several measures may be relaxed.

Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset on the telephone while wearing a mask. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset on the telephone while wearing a mask. Photo: 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. 

The announcement will be made some time after 3pm in Bern.

What measures are set to fall? 

The obligation to work from home and the five-day contact quarantine requirement are both set to fall on Wednesday afternoon – this is already clear on the basis of government statements and leaked information 

During a visit to Aarau on Tuesday, Health Minister Alain Berset already promised these measures would be removed immediately. 

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

However, Swiss news outlet Tages Anzeiger reports that further measures may be set to fall 

Berset is set to present two possible options to the cantons on Wednesday, which will then be sent out for consultation before a decision is made in the coming days. 

The first is a significant relaxation of the current rules on a step-by-step basis over a set time period, while the second would be a more complete end to all Covid measures. 

The Covid certificate requirement in indoor venues like cafes and restaurants, as well as other places and events where it is currently compulsory, could be relaxed from February 16th.

The limit on the number of participants in private settings would also be lifted on the 16th, according to the report. 

Another possible relaxation will be capacity restrictions on large events. Swiss media reports that not only would capacity restrictions be scrapped, but permits and health and safety concepts would no longer be needed for large events. 

Only the masks and testing of symptomatic people would reportedly remain compulsory under the plan – although Swiss tabloid Blick reports that even this is up for consideration. 

A relaxation of the mask rules could start in areas like bars and restaurants, with further relaxations in public transport and supermarkets coming in at a later date. 

Several experts have weighed into the debate, saying relaxations of the mask rules should take place but that the government should be cautious about removing too many rules too quickly. 

READ MORE: When will Switzerland relax mask 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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