Swiss cantons divided on ending Covid measures

The Swiss government's consultation with the cantons has led to disagreement on how the country should progress, with some calling for extending the existing measures and others demanding full scale relaxation.

A mask lies on the ground in the Swiss canton of Geneva. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
A mask lies on the ground in the Swiss canton of Geneva. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The cantons had until Wednesday, February 9th, to give their opinion on the two options proposed by the Federal Council to end current restrictions.

Most cantonal authorities said they prefer to do this in one fell swoop, rather than in stages.  

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. 

How do the cantons feel?

The small, centralised and predominantly German-speaking cantons of central Switzerland — Zug, Schwyz, Uri, Nidwalden, Obwalden and Glarus —  are in the greatest hurry to return to pre-Covid rules.

These cantons argue that a gradual lifting would be too complicated and difficult for the population to understand.

The southwestern canton of Valais prefers this approach as well, but only “as long as the number of cases and hospitalisations continue to decrease by mid-February”. Otherwise, the lifting of the measures should be done in stages.

However, Geneva, Basel-City, Neuchâtel and Jura say it is too early to lift remaining measures.

“It is too risky at the moment, given the still high load in hospitals”, according to Basel-City, which added that “the effects of the first relaxations, such as teleworking and quarantines, are also not yet known”.

The decision will be announced in the coming days, with the new changes to be implemented on February 17th. 

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

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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