OUTLOOK: Could Switzerland introduce Covid rules this autumn?
After several months of a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland, the rate of infections rose by over 22 percent in a span of seven days this week. What measures are Swiss health officials planning to prevent a new wave?
The Swiss government has said that “further waves of infections are to be expected in the fall/winter of 2022/2023".
As in previous waves, “the main objective of managing the pandemic is to prevent an overload of the health system. It is currently difficult to predict the magnitude of the waves of infection and, therefore, the burden on the healthcare system", it added.
According to current estimates, "it can be assumed that ordinary structures will be sufficient to manage the situation".
However, unless new, deadly variants emerge in the near future, health officials expect the new wave to be milder than the ones that struck in the winter of 2020 and 2021.
There are several reasons for this optimism:
Due to vaccinations and infections, “it is estimated that 97 percent of the Swiss population has been in contact with the virus”, which means that “immunity within the population is currently high”, authorities said.
This means that unlike the early Covid strains like Alpha and Delta, which were highly virulent, the latest dominant mutation — Omicron and its subvariants — while highly contagious, are also less dangerous for most people.
The new version of the Moderna vaccine, which should better target certain sub-variants of Omicron, will be rolled in Switzerland from October 10th.
Compared to the original vaccine, which was effective mostly against early strains and offered no protection against Omicron, “the new vaccine produces a stronger immune response against the Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.4/5″, according to the drug regulatory body, Swissmedic.
Is the government planning any specific measures this winter?
While the severity of the new wave is not yet known, authorities have made several ‘just-in-case’ provisions by, for instance, extending the Covid-19 law until June 2024.
This legislation, which was approved in a referendum in November 2021, allows the Federal Council to maintain and apply emergency measures that are necessary to manage the pandemic. Without the extension, ithe law would lapse in December of this year.
"No one wants to reactivate the Covid law. But after two years of the pandemic, we have understood that we must be ready", said MP Mattea Meyer.
While no mask mandates or other restrictions are being discussed at this time, the re-activated legislation would allow the authorities to quickly introduce any measures they deem necessary, according to the evolution of the epidemiological situation.
More preparations from the cantons
As it would be up to the cantons to apply measures set by the federal government, some have asked that financing be made available in case regional hospitals have to again accommodate patients from other cantons.
They are also making sure enough intensive care beds are ready for Covid patients.
What about the Covid certificate and tracing?
Though it is no longer used in Switzerland, the certificate continues to be required abroad.
The government will ensure its international compatibility.
The legal basis for the SwissCovid tracking app will also remain in force and can be reactivated during the winter of 2023/2024, if necessary.
MPs are also debating possible rules to be enforced for cross-border workers in the event of border closures.