For members


‘We’re taking a risk’: Why is Switzerland easing Covid restrictions despite rising infections?

Swiss authorities announced the lifting of some coronavirus measures, even though the epidemiological situation in the country remains "fragile".

'We're taking a risk': Why is Switzerland easing Covid restrictions despite rising infections?
Switzerland has taken a "cautious" step toward re-opening. Photo by Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The Federal Council announced on Wednesday that starting on April 19th restaurants and bars will be allowed to open their outdoor seating areas again, along with cinemas and other leisure and sports facilities.

Yet, Health Minister Alain Berset acknowledged that the health situation in the country “remains fragile and has even worsened in recent weeks”. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s upcoming coronavirus measures?

“We are taking a risk”, he conceded.

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.  

On the other hand, the number of daily infections has increased twofold, rising from just over 1,000 a day in March to over 2,000 daily in April.

So the question is: why is the government forging ahead with the easing, given the far-from-ideal epidemiological situation?

The answer, according to health officials, is that the overall situation in Switzerland is relatively stable or, at least, not as bad as authorities thought it would be.

For instance, as the number of infections started to go up, “we feared there would be a sharp increase in hospitalisations”, said Virginie Masserey, the head of infection control section at the Federal Office of Public Health.

However, that spike didn’t happen and the situation in hospitals is “very manageable”, Masserey noted.

The number of Covid-related deaths has not gone up either.

Also, the worst-case scenario imagined by the Federal Council in March — that the number of new infections would double every three to four weeks —  has not materialised.

“The number of cases has increased slowly but has not exploded”, Masserey said.

Other factors may have played a role as well in the decision to lift the restrictions.

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.

“The past few weeks have not been that bad. We haven’t lost control”, Berset said in an interview with RTS public broadcaster.

He added that because of vaccinations and widespread testing, “we can take a cautious step”.

READ MORE: ‘Walking a tightrope’: Swiss react to government lifting shutdown measures

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
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?