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‘Not bad news’: Why Swiss experts are optimistic about rising Covid cases

Two weeks after Switzerland lifted almost all restrictions, the number of infections is climbing back up again. Why is this happening and what does it mean?

'Not bad news': Why Swiss experts are optimistic about rising Covid cases
Covid cases are on the rise, mostly with mild symptoms. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels

After reaching the peak in January, then falling and stabilising for a while — prompting the Federal Council to scrap nearly all health measures from February 17th —  the number of new infections in on the rise again.

From just over 16,000 cases in the third week of February, the number jumped to more than 18,000 seven days ago, and to 25,131 additional cases on Friday — an increase of over 31 percent in one week, according to data from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

Image: FOPH

While this increase may be disappointing for all those who are hoping the Federal Council will lift remaining Covid rules — masks on public transportation and in health establishments, as well isolation obligation for infected individuals — from the end of the month, this epidemiological evolution was predictable.

In the very least, “it is not a surprise”, Didier Pittet, head of the infection prevention service at Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG), said in an interview with RTS public broadcaster on Friday.

That’s because “we know that Omicron is extremely contagious”, he said, noting that this variant now accounts for 99.7 percent of all Covid cases in Switzerland.

“The impact of contamination is currently commonplace. We relaxed the measures, we expected that there would be transmission”.

While the virus “is problematic for unvaccinated people,” the fact that number of infections is climbing “is not necessarily bad news because these contaminations contribute to building our immunity”, Pittet pointed out.

While those who have not had their vaccines may have a more severe course of the disease, others “will have small colds and headaches. It’s not too serious. We probably have to go through this stage so that immunity grows and next fall we are better armed for the very likely return of this virus”, he said.

The only way this spike in infections would cause alarm is if the number of Covid patients suddenly increased in Swiss hospitals, leading to eventual saturation of ICUs.

So far, this does not seem to be the case, though more Covid admissions have been registered in one week: from 127 on February 28th to 138 on March 2nd. As a comparison, 306  ICU beds were occupied by coronavirus patients at the beginning of January.

READ MORE: Why did Switzerland relax Covid measures?

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”