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Covid-19 infections: Has Switzerland reached the peak yet?

Swiss government and health experts have said that once the number of infections in the country peaks, the pandemic would wind down - and measures will be dropped. But are we there yet?

Vaccines are credited with improving Switzerland’s epidemiological evolution. Photo by SETH HERALD / AFP
Vaccines are credited with improving Switzerland’s epidemiological evolution. Photo by SETH HERALD / AFP

On Wednesday, Switzerland announced the immediate end of the work-from-home obligation and the contact quarantine requirement.

It also laid out two possible paths toward lifting of almost all other pandemic-related rules — including Covid certificates, restrictions on private gatherings, and possibly some mask mandates — from February 17th.

READ MORE: Switzerland announces plans to relax all Covid measures

However, the measures will be scrapped only if “the current wave of infections passes its peak”, authorities said.

“This approach will only be appropriate if the wave of infections has already peaked. Immunisation rates among the population must be sufficiently high and infection rates and hospital admissions must be falling”.

The authorities did not specify what they mean by the “sufficiently high” immunisation rates.

However, Tanja Stadler, president of the Covid-19 Task Force, said earlier that “the number of infections should increase until a third, or even half, of the Swiss population is infected”, resulting in “an immunisation of 65 to 85 percent of the population” — either through vaccination or infection.

At present, 68.11 percent of people in Switzerland are fully vaccinated, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

What exactly is this “peak” authorities are referring to?

To reach the peak in a pandemic means that the number of new cases has begun to level off rather than continue to increase.

In practical terms, a surge’s peak is only known in retrospect, after the numbers stabilise in a sustained way.

Swiss health officials have been saying since mid-January that the peak in clearly visible.

“It is possible that we have reached the peak”, Virginie Masserey, the head of the FOPH’s infection control department, said on January 18th.

Has Switzerland actually hit the peak?

FOPH figures contradict this because the number of new infections is not dropping and has not significantly levelled off.

On Wednesday, 41,175 new cases were reported, from high 30,000s in previous days.

The coming days will show if the upward trend will continue or whether the numbers will start to continually decrease.

Is the ‘peak’ a reliable sign of the pandemic’s end?

In April 2020, at the height of the first wave, the Swiss government believed that coronavirus would “peak” early that summer.

That has, indeed, happened, with Switzerland relaxing many of the restrictions as infection rates waned. However, cases skyrocketed again in the fall and through the winter, leading to another wave — and further measures.

There are, however, differences between the epidemiological situation then and now.

First of all, coronavirus mutations that were most prevalent at the beginning and in the later stages of the pandemic, namely the Alpha and Delta strains, were much more virulent than the present dominant variant, Omicron.

Secondly, the vaccines, which were rolled out in Switzerland at the beginning of January 2021, are believed to have been a major game-changer, and are credited with significantly lowering the rate of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

While the vaccines are not as effective against Omicron as against previous, more deadly strains, full immunisation, including a booster dose, protect against more severe course of the disease and prevent the saturation of the healthcare system.   

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why does Switzerland want to end Covid restrictions?

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Switzerland to drop vaccine requirement for entry from Monday

More than two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, travel to Switzerland is set to return to normal from May 2nd.

Switzerland to drop vaccine requirement for entry from Monday

Despite winding back all Covid measures domestically on April 1st, Switzerland still required visitors from non-European countries to be vaccinated against Covid. 

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration said on Twitter late in late April that all remaining entry rules would be scrapped from Monday, May 2nd. 

What were the rules? 

Up until May 2nd, visitors from the EU/EFTA zone can enter Switzerland without needing to show a vaccination or a test. Those from outside the bloc however need to show either proof of vaccination or recovery, or fit into other exception categories, including being under 18. 

This created a somewhat contradictory situation where Switzerland has some of the most relaxed rules in Europe domestically, but a stricter entry framework than many of its neighbours. 

‘Travelcheck’: This tool shows you what you need to enter Switzerland

As a consequence, Swiss tourism authorities warned that travellers from outside Europe, particularly those from the United States, China, India and the United Kingdom, are taking their tourist dollars elsewhere. 

The Swiss Tourism Association STV submitted a formal request in March that the laws be changed, saying they had put Switzerland at a disadvantage. 

How do I know which rules apply?

One of the most important elements to consider with regard to Covid entry rules is that the country where you reside rather than your nationality is the most important aspect. 

Therefore, if you are an American living in France under the current rules, you can enter without showing proof of vaccination, as you are considered to be entering from France. 

With rules constantly changing and official sources sometimes slow to keep up, the best way to determine the rules which apply in your specific case is the Swiss government’s ‘Travelcheck’ website. 

This is available here. 

The site will ask you certain questions about your situation, although no personal details are required. 

You will then receive a tailored response with advice on your entry situation. 

An extensive set of FAQs is available on the Swiss government website here