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COVID-19 RULES

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

The remaining coronavirus measures, including the obligation to isolate after testing positive, will fall from Friday. This is what you should know about the new, rule-free Switzerland.

Reader question: Do I have to stay home if I catch Covid in Switzerland after April 1st?
Unmasked: Health Minister Alain Berset removes his mask during a press conference. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

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.

This move has been planned since the Federal Council announced the lifting of all the other Covid measures from February 17th.

Does the end of the latter of the two requirements mean you are no longer obligated to stay indoors if you catch Covid?

This is a very pertinent question, especially as for two years, a positive Covid test was followed by a legal obligation to isolate for periods of time ranging from 10 to seven to five days. Those who broke this rule were liable for fines ranging from 50 to 200 francs.

The requirement to isolate was put in place to curb the spread of the virus at a time when the Covid vaccine was not yet available and dominant variants — Alpha and Delta — could lead to a severe course of the disease and serious complications, especially for people with chronic health conditions.

With the emergence of Omicron, however, the Federal Council decided to gradually relax the restrictions, with the last ones falling on April 1st.

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

Health officials explained that while this new variant is much more contagious than previous ones, it is also far less virulent.  Being infected with Omicron brought on only mild symptoms, similar to those of a common cold, in most people, especially those who had been vaccinated.

While a number of epidemiologists warned against the lifting of restrictions, others pointed out that an Omicron infection “is not necessarily bad news because these contaminations contribute to building our immunity”.

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

So does this mean that come Friday, you can throw caution to the wind and come out of isolation while sick?

If you have only mild symptoms and are feeling well, legally there isn’t anything to prevent you from going out and about.

There is, however, a thing called  ‘individual responsibility’ that has been mentioned so often during the pandemic.

“Even without an obligation to isolate, a sick person should not go to work or out in public”, said  Patrick Mathys, head of crisis management at the Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH).

While this will not be enforced with fines, the government has appealed to people to take steps to stop the spread once the isolation order is relaxed. 

Whether or not this recommendation is heeded remains to be seen. But if you do decide to go out, keep in mind that you might be infecting vulnerable people, so wear a mask.

While you are no longer required to do so, this act would fall under the aforementioned ‘individual responsibility’ category. After all, not being obligated to wear a mask doesn’t mean you should not wear it in situations when you could pass the virus on too others.

By the same token, people who are at risk if infected — for instance, the elderly or chronically ill — must act responsibly as well by wearing masks and taking other precautions when mingling with (unmasked) people.

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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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