For members


Decision day: Is the Swiss government ready to lift restrictions?

The Federal Council will announce on Wednesday afternoon whether some of the measures implemented in Switzerland in January will be eased or remain in place.

Decision day: Is the Swiss government ready to lift restrictions?
Will restairsnt terraces re-open in Switzerland? Stay tuned. Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP

Switzerland on Wednesday afternoon announced it had lifted a range of coronavirus measures. Here’s what you need to know. 

The current restrictions, taken to curtail the spread of coronavirus and its new mutations, have been in effect since January 18th.

They include the closing of all restaurants, bars and coffee shops — perhaps the most contentious rule that the government had enforced.

Political and business groups have been calling on the authorities to step up the process of re-opening, arguing that the prolonged shutdown is not only bad for the economy, but also takes its toll on people’s mental health.

Will the government give in to the pressure or will it stand its ground?

Even the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is unaware of the government’s decision.

“The Federal Council has not whispered anything into our ears,” said Virginie Masserey, the head of FOPH’s infection control section, when asked about the imminent announcement  by a journalist.

Authorities have previously said that to end the shutdown, a number of criteria has to be met: the infection positivity rate over 14 days should fall below 5 percent, occupancy of the intensive care units (ICU) by coronavirus patients should be below 25 percent, and the R-rate  — which indicates Covid’s ability to spread —must be below 1. 

Right now, only one of these benchmarks is being met: the occupation of intensive care beds is just under 23 percent.  

However, Swiss media is reporting that even though the epidemiological situation in the country is far from ideal, the Federal Council is ready to make a small, conciliatory gesture by allowing the re-opening of restaurant terraces and the limited return of spectators to cultural and sport events.

It is not known when this would happen, but probably not before April 26th, the media reported, basing this information on “well-informed sources”.

Postponing the re-opening until the end of the month would give health authorities more time to vaccinate more people, sources said.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How Switzerland is speeding up its vaccination programme

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For members


What does the increase in the number of Covid cases in Switzerland mean?

Coronavirus infections are on the rise again, with Swiss health officials and epidemiologists expressing concern over the possible evolution of the disease.

What does the increase in the number of Covid cases in Switzerland mean?

While the worst of the Covid pandemic is long over, and experts don’t expect it to re-emerge with the same strength and health consequences as it had in 2020, new cases have been reported in the past weeks.

Wastewater analysis, one of the means employed by health officials to measure the presence of coronavirus, indicates a viral load that is at least five times higher than usual, with values “now almost as high as in some previous Omicron-related waves,” Christoph Ort, spokesperson for Eawag Institute, which traces Covid viruses in 14 wastewater treatment plants in Switzerland, told the media.

What does this mean?

According to Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the most common sub-variant in Switzerland right now is the highly transmissible XBB, also known as ‘Kraken.’

The Eris and Pirola variants, which circulated in the summer and early fall are also still present.

While none is nearly as dangerous (at least for most people) as the early Alpha and Delta viruses, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the early stages of the pandemic, there is a reason for concern nevertheless.

“It’s a start of a small wave,” said Rudolf Hauri, head of the Cantonal Doctors’ Association.

“More people are being admitted to hospitals again with, or because of, coronavirus. There are also new cases in intensive care units, but these are generally people with a medical history.”

Should you be worried?
While the number of people with serious Covid-related complications is not expected to be as high as previously, the rise in the number of infections should not be trivialised either, infectious disease specialists say.
This is especially important for people in the high-risk category — those over 65 or suffering from chronic illnesses — who can get quite sick if infected with the new variants, according to FOPH.
This is all the more important as the flu season is about to begin in Switzerland as well, and the confluence of both illnesses, plus other respiratory viruses that typically circulate during the winter, can be very risky.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Other than adopting the same protective measures as those during the pandemic — that is, washing hands, avoiding close contacts and crowded spaces, and wearing masks where needed — health officials also recommend top-up shots, for both Covid and flu.

READ ALSO: Who should get top-up Covid and flu jabs in Switzerland?