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IN PICTURES: Tens of thousands of Swiss celebrate Basel Carnival’s return

Revellers in fancy costumes lit up the freezing streets of Basel in the early hours of Monday as Switzerland's biggest carnival returned for the first time since 2019.

Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP
Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The three-day event, which is one of the best-known carnivals in Europe, was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But tens of thousands of people were out in the streets of Switzerland’s third-biggest city before dawn to see the “Morgenstreich” lantern-lit procession get things back with a bang.

At 4:00am the city lights were turned off and the drum majors yelled “Morgestraich, vorwarts marsch!”, giving the forward march order to set off, in the local Basel dialect of German.

Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The streets were transformed into a river of painted lanterns, colourful masks and creative costumes flowing through the northern city to the sound of pipes and drums.

The world’s biggest Protestant carnival, which features on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list, starts at 4:00am on the first Monday after Ash Wednesday, and lasts for 72 hours.

The annual event is dubbed “the three most beautiful days” in the city, which borders Germany and France and straddles the River Rhine.

READ MORE: Basel’s amazing Fasnacht: How to survive Switzerland’s biggest carnival

The reasons why the carnival takes place a week later in Basel than in other cities in Switzerland and Germany have been lost over the centuries.

It is not known how far the Basel carnival dates back.

Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

A devastating earthquake in 1356 destroyed the city’s archives, and the earliest document referring to the carnival dates from 1376.

There were fewer large lanterns this year than would normally be seen, as the green light for the 2022 carnival came late, meaning that not all the parading groups had time to get ready.

Some presented the lanterns they had prepared for the cancelled 2020 edition.

Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Though Switzerland has lifted almost all of its Covid-19 restrictions, the virus has not gone away. The carnival’s traditional big parades on Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon have nonetheless been cancelled this year.

2020 marked the first time in around a century that the carnival had been called off — the last time was due to the Spanish flu pandemic.

Tens of thousands returned to the Basel Carnival after two years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

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COVID-19

‘Over a million people’ in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

Though Covid has not been a nationwide problem in Switzerland during recent several months, the virus is circulating again and rates of contamination are expected to soar in the coming weeks.

'Over a million people' in Switzerland could be infected with Covid this summer

While the new wave has not been expected to hit before fall or winter,  Swiss health officials now say 15 percent of Swiss population — more than 1 million people — could catch the virus before then.

This is a large number, considering that a total of 3.7 million people in Switzerland got infected since the beginning of the pandemic on February 24th, 2020.

“More than 80,000 new contaminations per week” are expected in the next two months, according to Tanja Stadler, the former head of the Covid-19 Task Force — much more than during the past two summers, when the rate of infections slowed down.

At the moment, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reports 24,704 new cases in the past seven days — double of what it was in April.

“The numbers are expected to continue to rise. Note that most of infected people will not be tested, so the number of confirmed cases will be smaller on paper than in reality”, Stadler added.

Although according to FOPH, nearly all cases in Switzerland (99 percent) are caused by Omicron and its sub-variants, which are less severe that the original Covid viruses, “more vulnerable people are likely to end up in hospital, and long Covid cases are also likely to rise”, she said.

Stadler also noted that Omicron virus can’t be compared with the flu, “because we observe long-term consequences much more often during an infection with Omicron than during the flu. Also, Covid can trigger very large waves, even in summer, while large flu outbreaks are rare at this time of year”.

There is, however, some positive news.

“The most recent data shows that 97 percent of the adult population in Switzerland has antibodies against Covid thanks to vaccinations and previous infections”, Stadler said.

Also, “in the long term, things will stabilise. But in the years to come, there will probably be waves in the summer too”.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland roll out second Covid boosters?

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