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COVID-19 RULES

How Switzerland wants to prevent an Omicron shutdown

Omicron-led staff shortages are becoming a major problem in Switzerland. This how Swiss companies plan to operate with diminished workforces.

Switzerland’s national airline has no staff shortages at the moment. Photo: SWISS
Switzerland’s national airline has no staff shortages at the moment. Photo: SWISS

As the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly through the country, it impacts not only the epidemiological situation, but also the economy.

Absenteeism in essential industries is particularly high and is placing Switzerland’s critical infrastructure at risk. 

As at January 4th, 70,302 infected people are in isolation, and additional 31,281 are in quarantine after a close contact with a contaminated person, according to Federal Office of Public Health.

In total, over 101,500 individuals are currently confined and the number is expected to increase, health officials say.

READ MORE: Omicron officially dominant in Switzerland

This means that many service industries are missing employees and some are already feeling the impact of the shortage.

There are, for instance, fewer Tilo trains in Ticino, which connect the canton with cities in the Italian region of Lombardy.

READ MORE: Swiss tourism rebounding despite Omicron threat

Due to sick train drivers who are absent, services between Chiasso and Como, and between Como and Varese are cancelled.

Luxury hotels have been forced to close due to staff shortages. 

To avoid such drastic situations, a number of essential businesses is setting up emergency plans to ensure they keep functioning despite staff shortages.

Food and essential goods supply

Large retailers Migros and Coop have assured everyone that they will continue their operations.

Migros set up a Switzerland-wide crisis unit already during the first wave in February 2020, according to company spokesperson.

Coop also has implemented a series of additional measures, in addition to existing concepts that have been deployed at the height of the pandemic.

In both cases, warehouses are well stocked, so the supply of food and other essential items — including, yes, toilet paper — is not threatened.

Hospitals

One of the worst-case scenarios is that Switzerland’s healthcare system, which is already on the brink of saturation, will be further burdened by lack of workers.

Medical facilities are getting ready for such a possibility.

Kristian Schneider, director of the Biel Hospital Center, said in an interview with public broadcaster RTS on Wednesday morning that his establishment has implemented plans on several levels.

“We have requested help from the army, and created teams A and B — one team will stay at home but will be ready to intervene.”

Transportation

Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) are preparing different scenarios to be deployed, depending on the evolution of the health situation within the company, but no details are given.

As of Wednesday, train services between Zurich and Bern have been cut due to staff shortages

At SWISS airlines, staff reserves are planned for weekends but the airline hasn’t noticed any shortages of flight personnel for the time being.

Mail delivery

Even in the event of significant absences, the Post will activate its internal job exchange in order to deploy employees from other departments or temporary workers.

And as a last resort, the Post could rely on the help of civil protection.

Phone service

Telecom companies will not be significantly affected by staff shortages.

At Swisscom, large part of the staff already work in home offices. In addition, the company said it has emergency and crisis management plans adapted to different levels of service, if needed.

Employees at Sunrise UPC and Salt also have the home working obligation, which reduces the risk of widespread staff absences.

Medications

In terms of drug deliveries, delays cannot be ruled out, according to Swiss medical wholesaler Galenica.

However, companies affiliated with the Galenica group have put in place emergency measures to be used in case of Covid-related staff absences: smaller logistics activities will be cut back and the resources will then be allocated to the delivery of medicines, company spokesperson said.

Additionally, cross-industry staff shortages could be at least partially alleviated with the new, reduced quarantine measures.

Most cantons, with the exception of Graubünden and Aargau as at January 5th, have reduced their quarantine time for contact cases from 10 to seven days.

Infected people, however, must still remain in isolation for 10 days.

READ MORE: Covid-19: Most Swiss cantons shorten their quarantine requirements

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TRAVEL NEWS

Switzerland to drop vaccine requirement for entry from Monday

More than two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, travel to Switzerland is set to return to normal from May 2nd.

Switzerland to drop vaccine requirement for entry from Monday

Despite winding back all Covid measures domestically on April 1st, Switzerland still required visitors from non-European countries to be vaccinated against Covid. 

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration said on Twitter late in late April that all remaining entry rules would be scrapped from Monday, May 2nd. 

What were the rules? 

Up until May 2nd, visitors from the EU/EFTA zone can enter Switzerland without needing to show a vaccination or a test. Those from outside the bloc however need to show either proof of vaccination or recovery, or fit into other exception categories, including being under 18. 

This created a somewhat contradictory situation where Switzerland has some of the most relaxed rules in Europe domestically, but a stricter entry framework than many of its neighbours. 

‘Travelcheck’: This tool shows you what you need to enter Switzerland

As a consequence, Swiss tourism authorities warned that travellers from outside Europe, particularly those from the United States, China, India and the United Kingdom, are taking their tourist dollars elsewhere. 

The Swiss Tourism Association STV submitted a formal request in March that the laws be changed, saying they had put Switzerland at a disadvantage. 

How do I know which rules apply?

One of the most important elements to consider with regard to Covid entry rules is that the country where you reside rather than your nationality is the most important aspect. 

Therefore, if you are an American living in France under the current rules, you can enter without showing proof of vaccination, as you are considered to be entering from France. 

With rules constantly changing and official sources sometimes slow to keep up, the best way to determine the rules which apply in your specific case is the Swiss government’s ‘Travelcheck’ website. 

This is available here. 

The site will ask you certain questions about your situation, although no personal details are required. 

You will then receive a tailored response with advice on your entry situation. 

An extensive set of FAQs is available on the Swiss government website here

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