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COVID-19 ALERT

Switzerland to remove all Covid measures on Friday

From Friday, April 1st, Switzerland will remove the final Covid measures. It will mark the first time in two years the nation has been free of Covid rules.

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 decision, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon, had been previously laid out by the government in February provided the epidemiological situation remained stable. 

The two Covid-related rules that are still in place — the obligation to wear a mask on public transport and in health establishments, as well as to isolate for five days in case of infection — will fall from April 1st.

As The Local reported in the following piece, anyone who tests positive will no longer need to isolate, although the government has encouraged people to do so wherever possible. 

Reader question: Do I have to stay home if I catch Covid in Switzerland after April 1st?

In addition, masks are now no longer required anywhere in Switzerland, including in shops and on public transport, although transit lines with international connections may ask people to wear masks. 

‘A good situation’

When making the announcement, Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset said “We are in a good situation.”

“The crisis is not over. But the bad phase of the crisis is over.”

Berset said that although plans are in place in case the situation deteriorates, “the federal government is not planning on returning to the previous situation”. 

Covid infections are still rampant – why are all measures being removed? 

The government said the widespread impact of vaccination as well as the weaker Omicron variant had meant the measures were no longer necessary. 

In addition, the relaxation of the measures in February, while leading to an increase in infections, had not resulted in a notable increase in hospitalisations or fatalities. 

The Swiss government however said that people should be ready for “seasonal waves of illness in the future”. 

‘High degree of aggressiveness’: How Covid has changed Switzerland

The government said it will work with the cantons to put in place a plan for these seasonal waves, which would be implemented ahead of the autumn. 

As with earlier in the pandemic, the cantons are free to put in place Covid measures if they see fit. 

While Switzerland’s Covid app is no longer required, the infrastructure for this app will remain in place for the future, while it is still required in several other countries and for the purposes of travel. 

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COVID-19 ALERT

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.

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