Switzerland to deactivate SwissCovid app

Switzerland's contact tracing app SwissCovid will be phased out, with the government saying it is no longer necessary.

Switzerland to deactivate SwissCovid app
Auf wiedersehen, au revoir, arrivederci: SwissCovid app is being retired. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

After April 1st, SwissCovid will disappear from the Apple and Google app stores, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).

The main reason for the change is the upcoming further relaxation of all Covid measures from April 1st, including the obligation to isolate for anyone who tests positive for Covid. 

“With the lifting of the obligation to isolate in April, the prerequisites for an effective continuation of the SwissCovid app are no longer there, since contact tracing will be greatly reduced”, said FOPH spokesperson Katrin Holenstein.

Depending on how the epidemiological situation develops in the winter of 2022/2023, the operation of the SwissCovid app could be resumed quickly.

“Depending on how the epidemiological situation develops in winter 2022/2023, the operation of the SwissCovid app should be able to be resumed quickly,” Holenstein said.

“Therefore, the necessary IT infrastructures will continue to be maintained in the background.”

The FOPH said no set criteria have been developed according to which the app may be reactivated, although Holenstein confirmed a “deterioration in the epidemiological situation, which would necessitate new measures” would be necessary. 

The app was launched in June 2020 to track infection chains. 

While there were some hiccups during the early days of the app, recent studies have confirmed its effectiveness. 

Swiss news outlet Watson notes that the app “saved lives” and cost the Swiss government a relatively small figure of CHF10million to develop. 

Will Switzerland still lift all remaining Covid restrictions despite rising infections?

On February 16th, the government announced almost all measures in place at that time would be scrapped the following day.

The requirement to show the Covid certificate to access indoor venues fell, and masks were no longer required in most public places, except for public transport and health establishments.

The remaining rules — the requirement to isolate in the event of a positive test and to wear masks on public transport and in healthcare facilities — are set to be dropped from April 1st “if the epidemiological situation continues to evolve as expected”, the Federal Council said.

The key phrase, “if the epidemiological situation continues to evolve as expected”, is not very precise; it is unclear whether it means that infection rates should decline significantly, or whether they should just not keep increasing.

One principal criterion set by the government is that the healthcare system must not be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, rather than simply infection rates. 

The Federal Council has not yet indicated what the decision will be, even though three members — President Ignazio Cassis, Health Minister Alain Berset, and Minister of Economic Affairs Guy Parmelin — have all recently tested positive to coronavirus.

It is reasonable to assume, however, that if the situation in hospitals doesn’t worsen dramatically in coming days, the remaining restrictions could be lifted, even if cases continue to climb.

More information about the possible development is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: Will Switzerland lift Covid restrictions amid rising infections?

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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.